November 1999

Volume XXII, Bulletin No. 6

Contents

Page

  I.

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on the Exercise

of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for the General Assembly

1

 II.

General Assembly adopts resolution on Bethlehem 2000

3

III.

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, 29 November 1999

7

IV.

Debate on the question of Palestine opens in the General Assembly

8

 V.

UNRWA Commissioner-General reports to the General Assembly

13

This bulletin, and back issues,

can be found in the United Nations Information System

on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL):

I.   CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE

    ON THE EXERCISE OF THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF THE

     PALESTINIAN PEOPLE FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The Committee met on 12 November 1999 and adopted its report to the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly (see A/54/35 and GA/PAL/812).  The Committee’s report contains the following conclusions and recommendations:

Chapter VII

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee

84. The General Assembly, in its resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947, stipulates that independent Arab and Jewish States will come into existence in Palestine. After more than five decades of suffering and dispossession, as the world prepares to embrace the new millennium, the Palestinian people is yet to see that provision implemented and its aspirations for self-determination and statehood realized. Today, recent breakthroughs in the peace process notwithstanding, the Palestinian people still carries the heavy burden of occupation. Millions of Palestine refugees carry on with their lives in dismal and harsh conditions of refugee camps. A solution to the Palestine refugee question, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, is yet to be achieved. Palestinians living under occupation are forced to grapple with the daily violation of their rights by the occupying Power and with the hostility of the settlers. The territory under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority now represents a disjointed multitude of enclaves surrounded by a dense net of settlements, restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinians and severely affecting their livelihood. Over the years, this has had a damaging effect on the Palestinian economy and is likely to have an impact on the sustainability of the social and economic development of the Palestinian people, including its efforts at nation-building.

85. In the course of the year, the Committee has continued to reaffirm its strong support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and has called upon the international community to help the parties rebuild the trust and confidence needed to move the peace process ahead towards the permanent status negotiations. In this connection, the Committee welcomed the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on permanent status issues and expressed the hope that they would be conducted in compliance with the timetable agreed in the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, signed on 4 September 1999. The Committee was encouraged by the commitment of the parties to conclude a framework agreement within five months from the resumption of the permanent status negotiations and a comprehensive agreement on all permanent status issues within one year. In that regard, the Committee wishes to emphasize that strong international consensus has emerged with respect to the need to reach the final settlement in the year 2000. The Committee also maintained that, at this crucial juncture, the international community, and in particular the co-sponsors of the peace process, should spare no effort in order to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, as well as peace and stability to the entire region.

86. The Committee is appalled by the fact that, as the parties engaged in the sensitive stage of the permanent status negotiations, the situation on the ground remained deplorable. In spite of some progress achieved in the negotiating process, the occupation of a vast Palestinian land area, the determination with which the occupying Power creates "facts on the ground" and violates the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people seriously jeopardizes and prejudges the outcome of the peace negotiations. It is, therefore, of paramount importance for the international community, including the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to do everything in their power to protect the Palestinian people until the parties reach a permanent status agreement and it is fully implemented.

87. In view of the above, the Committee reaffirms the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to the question of Palestine until a satisfactory settlement, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy, is reached and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized. As the parties embark on the sensitive stage of the permanent status negotiations, the role of the United Nations becomes even more critical. The Committee reiterates that the involvement of the United Nations in the peace process, both as the guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance for development, is essential for the successful outcome of the peace efforts. As the organ of the General Assembly established to deal with the question of Palestine, the Committee pledges to continue its work aimed at mobilizing the international community as a whole, at the governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental levels, in support of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions.

88. The Committee is of the view that the adjustments made over the past year in the programme of meetings held in the various regions and in its cooperation with the non-governmental organization community made the programme more effective and focused. Moreover, it has played a useful role in heightening international awareness of the question of Palestine and in achieving wider recognition for the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights. The Committee will continue to review and assess that programme with a view to making it more effective and responsive to the evolving situation on the ground and in the peace process. In that regard, the Committee, in its programme of meetings  for  the  next  year,  intends to focus on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Palestinian nation- and institution-building, socio-economic development and permanent status issues.

89. In pursuance of General Assembly resolution 53/27, the Committee, in the course of the year, placed special emphasis in its programme of activities on supporting and promoting the Bethlehem 2000 project of the Palestinian Authority. The Committee intends to continue that important activity in order to ensure broad international support for the Project, as well as active international participation in the millennial celebrations in Bethlehem.

90. The Committee emphasizes the essential contribution of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat in support of the Committee's objectives and requests it to continue its programme of publications and other activities, including the completion of its work on the UNISPAL collection and on the project for the modernization of the records of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine. The Committee also considers that the annual training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated its usefulness and requests that it be continued.

91. The Committee believes that the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information has continued to be an important tool in informing the media and public opinion about issues relating to the question of Palestine, and requests that it be continued, with the necessary flexibility that may be required as a result of developments affecting the question of Palestine. The Committee wishes to reiterate its earlier requests that, as a matter of priority, the Department update the permanent photo exhibit on the question of Palestine for public display at Headquarters, update its publications on the various aspects of the question of Palestine and prepare audio-visual and other types of informational material for use by the general public.

92. In an effort to make its contribution to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, the Committee  calls  on  all  States  to  join   in  this endeavour and invites the General Assembly again to recognize the importance of its role and to reconfirm its mandate with overwhelming support.

II.  GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON BETHLEHEM 2000

At its 51st plenary meeting, held on 10 November 1999, the General Assembly considered agenda item 36, entitled “Bethlehem 2000.”  The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People addressed the meeting.  The full text of his statement is reproduced below (see A/54/PV.51):

Statement of the Chairman

Mr. Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (spoke in French): It gives me great pleasure once again to address the Assembly on an item that is dear to the hearts of millions of people throughout the world: the forthcoming commemoration of the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the celebration of the new millennium in the symbolic city of Bethlehem. I believe that this event is of special importance, not merely for the Palestinians and the peoples of the region, but also for all believers throughout the world. For 16 months, from Christmas 1999 to Easter 2001, the Palestinian city of Bethlehem will be the site of the commemoration, in a spirit of joy and of hope, of this historic anniversary, which will coincide with the advent of the third millennium.

Thousands of visitors from all regions of the world, from all walks of life and from all faiths, will make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem for a unique experience in a spirit of communion, openness and sharing. The message that will be delivered at Bethlehem will be one of universal peace, dialogue and reconciliation. This strong message will, I am sure, reflect an aspiration so profound and fundamental that it will stimulate the imagination and energy of all people of goodwill.

As the Assembly is aware, the Palestinian Authority, in anticipation of masses of pilgrims arriving in Bethlehem, in 1997 launched the Bethlehem 2000 project in order to welcome the millions of tourists and pilgrims who wish to commemorate in Bethlehem a unique event in this holy land. In order to promote the particularly rich past of the city and to give a boost to the tourist industry, the Palestinian Authority has organized a series of projects.

The Bethlehem 2000 project, an enormous undertaking, seeks primarily to upgrade the city’s infrastructures and to restore the religious and historical sites of the city.  The upgrading of the infrastructure and the restoration of these historical sites, many of which are damaged and have been abandoned for many years now, have been real challenges for the Palestinian leadership. Years of conflict have had a negative impact not only on the socio-economic situation of the inhabitants of Bethlehem, but also on the condition of the sites and of the city’s buildings and public services.

In order to lend support to the Bethlehem 2000 project, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in May 1998 requested the inclusion of an item entitled “Bethlehem 2000” in the agenda of the fifty-third session of the General Assembly. Following an extremely interesting debate, the General   Assembly  adopted,  without   a   vote, resolution 53/27 of 18 November 1998, in which it expressed support for the project and called for the international community’s increased assistance and engagement to this laudable initiative.

In response to the General Assembly’s request, the Committee last year implemented a programme of activities to heighten awareness of the Bethlehem 2000 project and to mobilize support for it. One of the most important activities was the convening of the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, on 18 and 19 February 1999, in cooperation with the Italian Government and the Holy See, which I wish solemnly to thank once again for their support in helping to organize that Conference.

Many personalities attended the Rome Conference, including: Mr. Francesco Rutelli, the mayor of Rome; Mr. Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and representative of the Secretary-General of our Organization; Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, President of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and head of the delegation of the Holy See; Mr. Jacques Baudin, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Senegal; Mr. Azeddine Laraki, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of the United Food and Agriculture Organization of the Nations; and Mr. Lamberto Dini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy.

The eminent personalities who spoke at the Conference included Mr. Luciano Violante, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and Mr. Domenico Fisichella, Senator and Vice-President of the Italian Senate and representative of Nicola Mancino, President of the Italian Senate. The Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, also made an important statement.

In Rome, Mr. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, then President of the Republic of Italy, received the Committee delegation and expressed the readiness of his country to continue to make every effort to revive the peace process. The delegation also had an audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who welcomed the Committee’s activities and sent his best wishes for the success of the events soon to be held in Bethlehem.

The Committee continued to increase its support for the project by organizing other activities, in particular an international meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, in April 1999, as well as meetings with representatives of the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States. I should like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. President, for your personal contribution to the success of the Windhoek meeting.

An exhibition entitled “Bethlehem 2000”, which includes works of art and photographs of Bethlehem, was organized to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November 1998, at United Nations Headquarters. The exhibition was also on view during the meetings in Rome and Windhoek. On the occasion of the next International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which will be commemorated at the end of this month, the Committee will present another exhibition of Palestinian art, also on the subject of Bethlehem 2000. The exhibition will be entitled “Follow the Star: Images from the Palestinian City of Bethlehem at the New Millennium”, and will be officially opened on 29 November at 6 p.m.

For its part, the United Nations system has played a pre-eminent role since the launching of the Bethlehem 2000 project in 1997. The United Nations Development Programme is continuing to participate in a wide range of projects to repair infrastructure and to develop the tourist industry, in close cooperation with the municipality of Bethlehem. The World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are continuing to play an active part in the project through specific initiatives in the area. The European Commission, non-governmental organizations, donor countries and individuals have made substantial contributions, which have enabled the preparatory work to be finalized in time for the launch of the festivities.

At a time when the world will soon be flooding into Bethlehem, and at a time when the Palestinian people are preparing a generous welcome for all visitors, the Committee hopes that many will respond to the invitation and come to celebrate in peace and hope the birth of Jesus Christ in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. All are welcome in Bethlehem, that place of pilgrimage where the past and the present meet. In Bethlehem we will honour the heritage of a rich culture and a magnificent history with millennial traditions. In Bethlehem we will also be able to imagine a future that holds promise for all the peoples of the region – a region that must preserve its role as a crossroads for coming together and for peace for all people of goodwill.

On behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, I now have the honour to introduce draft resolution A/54/L.20, entitled “Bethlehem 2000”. In addition to those named in the document, the following countries have also decided to sponsor the draft resolution: France, Guinea, Malta, Namibia, Norway, Portugal, the Russian Federation, San Marino, Spain, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine and Venezuela.

In the draft resolution, the General Assembly welcomes the impending arrival of the historic event which will commemorate both the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and the beginning of the third millennium in the city which is a symbol of the shared hope for peace among all the peoples of the world. The Assembly then expresses its support for the Bethlehem 2000 project and commends the efforts undertaken by the Palestinian Authority in this regard. It notes with appreciation the assistance already given by the international community in support of the Bethlehem 2000 project and calls for the further increase of assistance and engagement on the part of the international community in order to ensure the complete success of the project.

The draft also requests the Secretary-General to mobilize the pertinent organizations and agencies of the United Nations system to increase their efforts to ensure the success of the project, and decides to include in the provisional agenda of its fifty-fifth session the item entitled “Bethlehem 2000” so that the Assembly may continue to support the project until the commemoration comes to a close at Easter 2001.

Allow me to express the profound gratitude of the Committee to Governments, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and the sponsors of this important draft resolution. Their generosity and contribution will enable the Palestinian people to fulfil one of their dreams and one of their aspirations. Let us all dare to hope that the celebration of Bethlehem 2000 will enable us to lay the foundations for lasting peace that will endure beyond the festivities, and that it will embody the hope, at the dawn of the next millennium and for years to come, of harmonious coexistence among all the peoples of the region.

In conclusion, allow me also to express the hope that, as was the case last year, all Members will give their unreserved support to this draft resolution and that once again it will be adopted by consensus.

At the same meeting, the General Assembly decided to adopt resolution 54/22, entitled “Bethlehem 2000.”  The full text is reproduced below:

54/22:  Bethlehem 2000

The General Assembly,

Recalling the fact that the Palestinian city of Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus Christ and one of the most historic and significant sites on earth,

Noting that the world will celebrate in Bethlehem, a city of peace, the onset of the new millennium in a global vision of hope for all peoples,

Stressing the monumental importance of the event for the Palestinian people, for the peoples of the region and for the international community as a whole, as it comprises significant religious, historical and cultural dimensions,

Aware of the Bethlehem 2000 project as a multifaceted undertaking for commemoration of the event, which will begin at Christmas, 1999, and conclude at Easter, 2001,

Aware also of the needed assistance with regard to the above-mentioned project, and expressing appreciation for the steps taken towards increasing the engagement and participation of the international community, including donor countries, and organizations of the United Nations system, in particular the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, as well as the European Commission, religious institutions and others,

Welcoming the convening of the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference in Rome, on 18 and  19 February 1999, and the participation of many high-level individuals and institutions from governmental, religious, intergovernmental, academic, cultural, non-governmental and private sectors in that important Conference,

Expressing the need for immediate change in the situation on the ground in the vicinity of Bethlehem, especially with regard to ensuring freedom of movement,

Stressing the need for ensuring free and unhindered access to the holy places in Bethlehem to the faithful of all religions and the citizens of all nationalities,

Expressing the hope for rapid progress in the Middle East peace process and the achievement of the final settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides by September 2000, as agreed by the parties, so that the millennium may be celebrated most appropriately in an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation,

1. Welcomes the impending arrival of this global, historic celebration in Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus Christ and the onset of the third millennium as a symbol of the shared hope for peace among all peoples of the world;

2. Expresses support for the Bethlehem 2000 project and commends the efforts undertaken by the Palestinian Authority in this regard;

3. Notes with appreciation the assistance given by the international community in support of the Bethlehem 2000 project, and calls for the acceleration of assistance and engagement by the international community as a whole, including private sector participation, to ensure the success of the Bethlehem 2000 project and the fruition of this monumental commemoration;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to continue to mobilize the pertinent organizations and agencies of the United Nations system to increase their efforts to ensure the success of the Bethlehem 2000 project;

5. Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its fifty-fifth session the item entitled "Bethlehem 2000" so that the General Assembly may  have  a  renewed  opportunity  to reaffirm its further support for the project until the commemoration comes to a close at Easter, 2001.

51st plenary meeting,

10 November 1999.

III.  INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE

 29 NOVEMBER 1999

On 29 November 1999, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was observed at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at the United Nations Offices at Geneva and Vienna, as well as in several other cities, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 32/40 B of 2 December 1977.

All States Members of the United Nations, specialized agencies and observers were invited to attend the solemn meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

At the meeting, statements were made by Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee; Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), President of the General Assembly; Kofi Annan, Secretary-General; and Danilo Türk (Slovenia), President of the Security Council for the month of November 1999.

The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations read out a message from Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.  Also, John de Saram (Sri Lanka) made a statement as Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

In addition,Dumisana Shadrack Kumalo, the representative of South Africa, read out a message from Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, in his capacity as Chairman of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries.  Michel Kafando, the representative of Burkina Faso, read out a message from Youssouf Ouedraogo, Minister of State, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, in his capacity as Chairman of the Twenty-sixth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers; and Abdelkader Mesdoua, Chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations, read out a message on behalf of the Organization of African Unity.   

Said Kamal, Under-Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs of the League of Arab States, read out the message from Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  A further statement was made by Don Betz, representative of non-governmental organizations.

Concluding statements were made by Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and by the Chairman of the Committee.

The text of all statements and messages in connection with the Day of Solidarity will be included in a special bulletin to be published by the Division for Palestinian Rights.

An art exhibit entitled: “Follow the Star: Images from the Palestinian City of Bethlehem at the New Millennium,” featuring the works of 12 Palestinian artists, was presented in collaboration with the Al-Wasiti Art Centre in Jerusalem.  The exhibit was on display in the Public Lobby of the United Nations Secretariat from 29 November to 12 December 1999.  The exhibit was sponsored by the Committee in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations.  At the opening, on 29 November  1999,  the Chairman  of the  Committee  made  a statement,  followed by a statement by  Mr. Kaddoumi

IV.  DEBATE ON THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE OPENS IN THE

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

On 29 November 1999, the debate on agenda item 44, “Question of Palestine,” began in the General Assembly.  In accordance with past practices, the item was taken up in the plenary.  The annual report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was introduced by its Rapporteur, while four draft resolutions were introduced by the Chairman.  The full text of both statements is presented below (see A/54/PV.65):

Statement of the Chairman.

Mr. Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (spoke in French): I am honoured to speak in this annual debate in the General Assembly on the question of Palestine in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate you once again, Mr. President, on your able stewardship of our work during this session. We are indeed fortunate that you are at the helm of this year's session, and we are certain you will guide our debates in the most productive and efficient manner possible. On behalf of the members and observers of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, I wish to express appreciation for your active support of its activities, not only because your country is a member, but also because of your keen personal interest in the Committee's discharge of the mandate entrusted to it by the Assembly.

Your personal involvement in the recent United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, held in Namibia this year under the auspices of the Committee, has been especially helpful in ensuring the success of this important regional event crowned by the Windhoek Declaration of support to the Palestinian people.

I also take this opportunity to request you, Mr. President, to convey to Namibia's President Sam Nujoma and Prime Minister Hage Geingob our profound thanks for taking the time to meet with the Committee delegation in Windhoek and for their personal support for and encouragement of the delegation of the Committee.

The international community's position is that the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East cannot be resolved peacefully without a just solution to the question of Palestine, providing for the full exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The question of Palestine remains the core issue of the conflict in the Middle East.

The Committee welcomes the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, which revived the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and ended a lengthy deadlock that had jeopardized the peace process launched in 1993. That interim agreement brought about encouraging changes, including the redeployment of Israeli forces from parts of the West Bank; the release of 350 Palestinian detainees; agreement on safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; the beginning of construction work on the Gaza sea port; and agreements on some issues relating to the city of Hebron and security issues. The Committee also welcomed the resumption of the permanent status negotiations. We earnestly hope that the parties will be able to conclude the framework agreement and  the  final   settlement  agreement  in   strict compliance with the ambitious timetable they have set.

These positive signals give us reason to believe that the current negotiations are off to a good start and to be reasonably optimistic that progress will continue. We should, however, be mindful of the fact that these are but preliminary steps in a long, arduous process leading towards the attainment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The remaining issues to be tackled by the parties are immense in scope, complex and delicate, and at the present stage the international community should provide more support for these negotiations.

Despite positive signs and the progress made in the peace process, the construction and expansion of settlements is continuing, in flagrant contradiction of the statements of the Israeli authorities that no settlement would be built or extended. In the past year, a relatively new trend in settlement activities started to emerge, with the construction of hilltop settlements throughout the West Bank. Our Committee noted the recent evacuation of some of these settlements, but it wishes to reaffirm firmly and unequivocally its position of principle that all the settlements on Palestinian land are illegal and must be dismantled. They jeopardize the peace process and predetermine the outcome of the permanent status negotiations. These settlements are the symbols of continuing occupation.

Today, the map of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is dotted with settlements alongside Palestinian villages and towns, in a collage of disparate communities. Palestinians live in communities surrounded by settlement blocks and a network of bypass roads that limit their capacity for economic growth and hamper their ability to maintain normal community life. Settlement activities are acts of provocation, in violation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which contain the basic parameters for the Middle East peace process. It is hardly necessary to point out that settlement-building activities only further exacerbate the already complex problems for which the current peace negotiations are trying to find a solution.

With regard to the Palestinian refugees, it is sad to note that more than 50 years after the partition of Palestine, some 3.6 million Palestinian refugees are still living in camps. These refugees have lived most of their lives – in some cases, their entire lives – in uncertainty as to their future and that of their children. These Palestinians are living with the vague hope that one day perhaps they will be able to return to their homes or obtain compensation for the losses they have suffered. Yet the many obstacles and the years of deprivation and suffering have never broken the will of the Palestinian people. They continue to cherish the belief that the peace process is the only way out of their predicament. Even if they consider that the peace process is an irreversible strategic choice, the Palestinian people, through their perseverance and determination, will not yield or bend until they have obtained what is rightfully theirs: peace and the right to determine their own destiny.

Over the years, the support of the international community for the struggle of the Palestinian people has increased. Many Governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and prominent individuals have rallied to support this noble cause throughout the world. At a time when the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are entering the most difficult phase, it is therefore crucial and essential that all those who support the peace process mobilize their efforts once again to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine so that the Middle East will regain the peace and stability of which it has been deprived for so long. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will remain firmly committed to ensuring that its programme of work will continue effectively, constructively and concretely to support the achievement of the objectives that are the basis of the peace process.

The Committee will also continue to cooperate with all Governments, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations to achieve a just and peaceful settlement of the question  of  Palestine  that   will  one   day   allow Palestine to take its rightful place in the community of nations as a Member State of the Assembly. Let me also take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to the many Governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations that have actively supported our work in the course of the year.

The Committee, aware of the fact that economic and social development are important underpinnings of peace and prosperity, has always tried to draw the attention of the international community to the need to provide adequate assistance to the Palestinian people, particularly at this sensitive transitional stage. The Committee would therefore like to thank the international donor community for the economic aid in various areas that it continues to extend to the Palestinian people.

We took note with satisfaction of the signing at the recent meeting in Tokyo, of an action plan aimed at supporting the peace process and accelerating the disbursement of funds earmarked for essential development projects.

The Committee also took note of the appointment of Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen as the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. We hope that he will continue to serve as coordinator of the various forms of United Nations assistance to the Palestinian people.

The Committee would like to solemnly reaffirm that the United Nations has a permanent responsibility with regard to the question of Palestine and that this important responsibility will continue until the question is resolved in all its aspects, in a satisfactory manner and in accordance with international legitimacy. It is for this reason that, as Chairman of the Committee and on behalf of the sponsors, I would like to draw the attention of the Assembly to the four draft  resolutions  that have  been circulated under this agenda item under the symbols A/54/L.42, A/54/L.43, A/54/L.44 and A/54/L.45.

Allow me first, however, to inform the Assembly that in addition to the sponsors whose names appear in those documents, Viet Nam has also joined as a sponsor of the four draft resolutions.

The first three draft resolutions relate, respectively, to the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the work of the Division for Palestinian Rights and the work of the Department of Public Information. They reiterate the important mandates given to those bodies by the General Assembly by large majorities in the past. They also reflect the recent positive developments in the peace process. The focus of these draft resolutions, which are based on the objectives of the Committee, is to intensify the Committee's efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a just and peaceful solution to the question of Palestine. As in the past, the Committee intends to utilize the resources available to it in the best way possible and to concentrate its efforts on activities that have been effective in the implementation of its mandate. The necessary resources to finance the activities outlined in the three draft resolution are allocated in the programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001.

The fourth draft resolution, on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, which reflects the position of the General Assembly with regard to the essential aspects of such a settlement, has been updated to refer to the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum.

The four draft resolutions that I have just introduced outline positions, mandates and work programmes that are of special importance at the current stage of the peace process. I call on the General Assembly to express its support for these mandates by an even greater majority than in the past.

Statement of the Rapporteur

Mr. Balzan (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People: It is an honour for me, in my capacity as Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, having assumed my new functions earlier this year, to present to the General Assembly the annual report of the Committee.

In the course of the past year, the Committee continued to carry out the mandate given to it by the General Assembly. The report covers the new developments concerning the question of Palestine, the peace process and the activities of the Committee since last year's report.

The introduction to the report is contained in chapter I and outlines the Committee's position with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Chapters II and III summarize the mandates of the Committee, the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Department of Public Information and contain information on the organization of the Committee's work during the year.

Chapter IV reviews the situation relating to the question of Palestine as monitored by the Committee in the course of 1999. This chapter takes note of a number of encouraging steps in the peace process since the signing on 4 September 1999 of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. In particular, it refers to the further Israeli redeployment from parts of the West Bank, the beginning of the permanent status negotiations, the release of Palestinian prisoners, the agreement on the safe passage routes and the timetable for the conclusion of a framework agreement and final settlement agreement. It also contains reference to the convening on 15 July 1999 of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on Measures to Enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. The chapter draws special attention to the serious problem posed by the settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. It also contains information on settler activities, the situation with regard to the Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian economy, and water resources available to the Palestinians; action by the donor community and the United Nations system; and the activities and budget constraints of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Chapter V reviews actions taken by the Committee. It is divided into three main sections. Section A describes actions taken in accordance with General Assembly resolution 53/39, aimed at promoting Palestinian rights in the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies. This includes information on the resumed tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly and communications to the President of the Security Council and the Secretary-General. The section also includes information on the participation by the Committee Chairman in various international forums.

Section B contains an account of the implementation of the programme of work of the Committee and the Division for Palestinian Rights in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 53/39 and 53/40, respectively. It also takes note of the meetings of consultations of the Bureau of the Committee with members of the European Union and with the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Sir Kieran Prendergast. The section gives a brief account of the various international meetings organized in the course of the year, namely the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference, held in Rome on 18 and 19 February 1999; the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, held at Windhoek from 20 to 22 April 1999; and the United Nations International Meeting on the Convening of the Conference on Measures to Enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, held in Cairo on 14 and 15 June 1999.

The section contains an account of a visit by the Committee delegation to Gaza, from 16 to 18 June 1999, and of the meetings held in the course of the visit with Chairman Arafat and other high-level Palestinian officials. A subsection on the Committee's cooperation with non-governmental organizations has been added to this chapter. The rest of section B deals with the publications of the Division for Palestinian Rights, the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL), the training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority, the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the project on the modernization of the records of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.

In view of the special importance attached to the need to support the Bethlehem 2000 project of the Palestinian Authority, a new section C was added to describe actions taken in implementation of General Assembly resolution 53/27.

Chapter VI covers the work of the Department of Public Information in accordance with General Assembly resolution 53/41, including the publications and audio-visual activities of the Department, the work of United Nations information centres worldwide and other activities carried out by the Department.

The seventh and last chapter contains the recommendations of the Committee to the General Assembly. In this chapter, the Committee notes that, recent breakthroughs in the peace process notwithstanding, the Palestinian people still carry the heavy burden of occupation. It also notes that a solution to the Palestine refugee question, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, is yet to be achieved. The Committee draws attention to the fact that the territory under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority now represents a disjointed multitude of enclaves surrounded by settlements, restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinians and severely affecting their livelihood. It expresses concern that, over the years, this has had a damaging effect on the Palestinian economy and is likely to have an impact on the sustainability of the social and economic development of the Palestinian people, including its efforts at nation-building.

The Committee reaffirms its strong support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. It welcomes the resumption of the negotiations on permanent status issues and expresses the hope that they will be conducted in compliance with the timetable agreed in the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. The Committee also maintains that at this crucial juncture, the international community, and in particular the co-sponsors of the peace process, should spare no effort in order to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, as well as peace and stability to the entire region.

The Committee expresses concern about the situation on the ground, with the occupying Power continuing to create "facts on the ground" and to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. It stresses the paramount importance for the international community, including the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to do everything in their power to protect the Palestinian people until the parties reach a permanent status agreement and it is fully implemented.

The Committee reaffirms the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to the question of Palestine until a satisfactory settlement based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy is reached and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized.

The Committee also expresses the view that the adjustments made over the past year in the programme of meetings held under its auspices in the various regions and in its cooperation with the non-governmental organization community made the programme more effective and focused. The Committee pledged to continue to review and assess this programme with a view to making it more effective and responsive to the evolving situation.

The Committee further notes that, in the course  of the year, it has placed  special emphasis

on its programme of activities on supporting and promoting the Bethlehem 2000 project of the Palestinian Authority. The Committee intends to continue this important activity in order to ensure broad international support for the project, as well as active international participation in the millennial celebrations in Bethlehem.

The Committee emphasizes the essential contribution of the Division for Palestinian Rights in support of the Committee's objectives and requests the Division to continue its programme of publications and other activities, including the completion of its work on the UNISPAL collection and on the project for the modernization of the records of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.

The Committee notes that the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information has continued to be an important tool in informing the media and public opinion on issues relating to the question of Palestine, and would request that it be continued, with the necessary flexibility as may be required by developments affecting the question of Palestine.

Finally, in an effort to make its contribution to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, the Committee calls on all States to join in this endeavour and invites the General Assembly again to recognize the importance of its role and to reconfirm its mandate with overwhelming support.

I trust that the report I have just introduced will be of assistance to the General Assembly in facilitating its deliberations on this important issue.

V.  UNRWA COMMISSIONER-GENERAL REPORTS TO THE

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

In accordance with past practice, the General Assembly agenda item on Palestine refugees was allocated to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) of the General Assembly.  The Committee had before it the annual report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (A/54/13) and a number of other reports submitted by the Secretary-General.  The reports were summarized as follows in a press release issued at Headquarters (see GA/SPD/171):

Before the Committee was the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (document A/54/13) for the period 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999, which states that living standards among Palestinian refugees remained generally poor despite modest economic growth in some host countries. Despite recurrent financial difficulties and the uncertain political environment, the Agency was able to maintain basic health, education and relief and social services for 3.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with the Agency in Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But those services could only be sustained through   the   retention   of   austerity   and   cost-reduction measures imposed in previous years, the report notes. Even with those measures in place, and with additional ad hoc contributions from donors, UNRWA ended 1998 with a $61.9 million deficit compared to the regular cash budget of $314 million, and with depleted cash and working capital reserves.

According to the report, further progress was achieved in UNRWA's internal restructuring and reform programme. The Agency implemented a major initiative whose primary aims were to enhance the budget's usefulness as a planning, management and fund-raising tool, and to offer greater transparency. It was hoped that the new approach    would result in increased donor resources being made available, thereby safeguarding the quality and level of services provided to Palestine refugees.

The Commissioner-General reports that the Palestine refugee community and the host authorities in all fields of operation continued to express concern about the perceived reduction in UNRWA services, although there was no repeat of the wide-scale protests sparked by the imposition of austerity and cost-reduction measures in August 1997. The Agency's financial difficulties were seen by many as politically motivated, signalling a weakening in the international community's commitment to the refugee issue and a dereliction by UNRWA of its humanitarian duties.

In some cases, the report states, the protests were politically motivated, even where there was no reduction in services. The continuing absence of tangible progress in the Middle East peace process exacerbated the Palestine refugees' frustration. On the Israeli-Palestinian track, initial optimism over the October 1998 Wye River breakthrough was soon replaced by frustration, as the major part of that agreement remained unimplemented, in an atmosphere of mutual recrimination.

According to the report, tension increased in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as the original May 1999 deadline for completion of final status negotiations passed with no sign of movement in the peace process. There was no progress on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of the peace process. However, by mid-1999, the election of a new government in Israel and developments in the Arab world brought hope and expectation that peace efforts would be reinvigorated.

While UNRWA continued to cooperate with the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, and with the Palestinian Authority, the situation in the occupied West Bank was tense for much of the period under review, the report says. There were intermittent clashes, some resulting in fatalities, between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and between Palestinians and the Israel Defence Force. Hebron remained particularly volatile.

 

The Commissioner-General notes that the Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, continued to impose full closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as curfews and closures in various West Bank localities, although to a lesser degree than in the previous reporting period. Those closures negatively affected the socio-economic conditions and hindered economic activity, in particular by preventing Palestinian labourers from working in Israel. Socio-economic conditions remained difficult in the Gaza Strip, whose residents continued to rely heavily on employment opportunities inside Israel. However, labour and trade flows between Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were higher in 1997 than in 1998.

According to the report, the Palestine refugee population in Jordan enjoyed full citizenship, giving them access to government assistance and development assistance aimed at improving the country's socio-economic situation. The Palestine refugee community in Lebanon, among the most disadvantaged, suffered from poor living and housing conditions, restrictions on mobility and high unemployment rates.

The report also describes general developments in Agency programmes, including education, health, relief and social services, income generation, financial and legal matters. It also gives details of UNRWA's work in each field of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Commissioner-General on the financial situation of UNRWA in 1998 and 1999 and budget estimates for 2000-2001 (document A/54/13 and Add.1). It notes that, unlike other United Nations bodies, UNRWA provides services directly to beneficiaries through its own network of facilities. The Agency employs 22,000 staff, over 99 per cent of whom are locally recruited Palestinians.

The report puts the total volume of the 2000-2001 budget at $735.7 million, a 6 per cent increase over the $695.7 million 1998-1999 budget. The increase results from natural growth in the refugee population, the rising cost of certain expenditure items, including staff costs, and redefinition of the range of items covered in the budget. Some 95 per cent of budget volume is funded by voluntary contributions, with the remainder funded by the United Nations and other sources.

According to the report, the 2000-2001 budget safeguards the quality and level of services that UNRWA has been providing to Palestine refugees since 1950. It not only reflects the minimum of resources that the Agency needs to operate on a sustainable basis, but also allows for cost-effective improvements to the quality of services and the efficiency of operations, and the broadening of services in certain areas previously affected by austerity measures.

The report's first chapter reviews the Agency's situation in 1998 and 1999; the second describes the revised budget structure and provides other general information about the budget; and chapter III gives an overview of the 2000-2001 budget on an Agency-wide basis. Chapters IV to IX deal with the biennial budget for each programme area, including a description of activities and detailed budgetary comments, and chapter X covers project-funded activities. Annexes contain summaries of the Agency's biennial goals, objectives and targets, as well as additional information on staffing, projects and cost attribution.

By applying a comprehensive, programme-based and forward-looking approach to its budget, the report says, UNRWA hopes to achieve full funding of its 2000-2001 budget and move beyond the financial crisis of recent years. That will enable UNRWA's vital humanitarian assistance to be placed on a solid financial footing and preserve the Agency's role as an element of stability in the region.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/54/377). It cites the Secretary-General's 28 July 1999 note verbale to the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, requesting information on any action taken or envisaged by his Government in implementing the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolution 53/48 of 3 December 1998. That resolution reaffirmed the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes or former places of residence in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

In a response by Israel, dated 25 August 1999 and contained in the report, the Permanent Representative replies that resolutions regarding UNRWA remain rife with political issues irrelevant to the Agency's work, and thus remain detached from the reality in the area.

"The resolutions concerning UNRWA must reflect the progress in the peace process and the potential for future breakthroughs”, he writes. "If this potential is to be harnessed, the peace process must receive encouragement and support from concerned parties in the region and the international community, including through resolutions regarding the future of UNRWA."  

He goes on: "Israel believes that UNRWA can play an important role in promoting the social and economic advancement foreseen in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, within the limits of its humanitarian mandate, and accordingly looks forward to continuing its cooperation and good working relationship with UNRWA."

The report states further that between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 1999, 1,022 UNRWA-registered refugees returned to the West Bank and 257 to the Gaza Strip. Some of those may not themselves have been displaced in 1967, but may be members of the family of a displaced registered refugee whom they accompanied on his return or joined thereafter.

According to the Secretary-General's report on offers by Member States of grants and scholarships for higher education, including vocational training for Palestine refugees (document A/54/376), Japan awarded nine fellowships through UNRWA in the 1999 fiscal year, of which five were to Palestine refugees. Between 1989 and 1996, Switzerland contributed $1,703,581, as well as $338,000 in 1997, to the UNRWA university scholarships programme for secondary school graduates.

The report says that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted 13 scholarships in favour of Palestinian students during the 1998-1999 biennium. The World Health Organization (WHO) provided 62 fellowship/study tours in the same period for qualified Palestinian candidates nominated by the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the United World Colleges established their own selection committee in UNRWA's area of operation, and did not offer any scholarships through the Agency for the 1997/98 academic year. One scholarship was offered for 1998/99 by Canada's Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific and another, for 1999/2000, is being processed.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues (document A/54/345), submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/51 of 3 December 1998. By that resolution, the Assembly reaffirmed that the Palestine refugees are entitled to their property and to the income derived therefrom, in conformity with the principles of justice and equity. The resolution also urged the Palestinian and Israeli sides, as agreed between them, to deal with the important issue of Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues in the framework of the final status negotiations of the Middle East peace process.

The report says that the Secretary-General requested, on 28 July 1999, that Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations inform him by 10 September 1999 of any action taken or envisaged in relation  to implementation of  resolutions 53/46 to 53/52 of 3 December 1998.

A 23 August 1999 response by Israel said that Israel had abstained from resolution 53/49 and voted against resolutions 53/46, 53/48, 53/50, 53/51 and 53/52. Israel considered it essential that the General Assembly consolidate the resolutions regarding UNRWA into one resolution directly related to the Agency's humanitarian tasks.

The Secretary-General's report on a University of Jerusalem "Al-Quds" for Palestine  refugees (document A/54/385) cites his request to the Rector of the United Nations University for assistance in completing the functional feasibility study on establishing the proposed university. The Rector made available a highly qualified expert, Mihaly Simai, to assist in the preparation of the study. The expert was to visit the area and meet with Israeli officials. In a note verbale to the Permanent Representative of Israel dated 28 July 1999, the Secretary-General requested that Israel facilitate the visit.

According to the report, Israel's Permanent Representative informed the Secretary-General on 26 August 1999 that his Government had voted consistently against the proposed university, and its position remained unchanged: "It is clear that the sponsors of this resolution seek to exploit the field of higher education for political purposes totally extraneous to genuine academic pursuits." Accordingly, Israel considered that the proposed visit "would serve no useful purpose".

Also before the Committee was the report of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA (document A/54/477), which expresses deep concern about the Agency's financial prospects. It emphasizes the international community's responsibility to ensure the maintenance of UNRWA services at acceptable levels, as defined by the needs of the refugee community, and to ensure that those levels keep pace with the steady natural growth of the refugee population.

The Working Group expresses alarm at the continuing negative effect of seven years of austerity measures on UNRWA's humanitarian operations. Those measures have prevented the expansion of programmes at a rate commensurate with the growth in the refugee population, necessitated curtailment in ongoing programme activities and precluded actions that would be part of the Agency's normal work programme. Most seriously, they have led to increased class sizes in Agency schools, rising patient/staff ratios in its health services and higher caseloads for social workers dealing with the poorest refugees.

While noting that the refugee problem is rooted in a political issue originating more than half a century ago and the need to settle that problem once and for all, the report stresses that the problems facing the refugees today are humanitarian ones that must be addressed as a shared international responsibility. UNRWA's services must be seen as the minimum required to enable the refugees to lead decent human lives. Any further reduction in services would not only unfairly deprive the refugees of the minimum level of support to which they are entitled, but also have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

The Working Group urges those Governments that have not yet contributed to UNRWA to start to do so; those which have so far made only relatively small contributions to increase them; those which have previously made generous contributions to continue to do so in a timely manner and to strive to increase them; and those which traditionally have shown special interest in the welfare of the Palestine refugees, both in the region and beyond, to begin contributing or to increase their contributions.

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