ASSEMBLY HEARS RANGE OF VIEWS ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE:

SPEAKERS NOTE PROGRESS BUT WARN OF CONTINUING PROBLEMS

Asserting that creation of a Palestinian State was the key to the Palestinian people's   exercise of their inalienable rights, the representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine warned the General Assembly this  afternoon that if  current double standards continued to prevail in the Middle East, and if the United States failed  to participate in  the search  for a solution, the opportunity for peace and stability in the region would be lost.

As the Assembly considered the question of Palestine, he pointed out that the United  States had slackened off in prompting Israel to adhere to its commitments; he also drew  attention to the stalemate in the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.   The United States had  devoted its efforts to cooperation with Israel and reduction in the levels of  response to Palestinian needs. The United  States was therefore exerting  pressure on the Palestinian side in order to force it to acquiesce to Israeli demands.

He also noted that the Palestine  Liberation Organization (PLO) was  still on the  list of the United States Congress as a terrorist organization, although Israel  and the PLO had  agreed to mutual  recognition a few years ago.  In addition, while many European  States  had  raised the  level of diplomatic representation of the  PLO, the United States  had not followed suit.

The representative of Israel said that since the Oslo Agreement, relations between  the Palestinian and Israeli  peoples had  moved into more promising  terrain.  The  famous 1993  handshake between  Yitzhak  Rabin and Yasser Arafat (Oslo  1993), had  marked  a new  genesis for Israeli's and Palestinians.  It also constituted a shift from a frozen attitude to a logic of peace, where mutual recognition was both essential and a prerequisite for dialogue between the two peoples.

Since the Oslo Agreement, he said, such mutual recognition had  become more than ever important.   The signing of the Hebron agreement in 1997 and the Wye River Memorandum  of October 1998 were expressions of trust in political integration.  Mutual recognition  was  also crucial for the Government of Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, which was determined to end the conflict  between Palestinians and Israelis and  to begin an era  of prosperity.

Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise  of the Inalienable Rights  of the  Palestinian People, introducing four draft resolutions, said the signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh  Memorandum had revived the Israeli-Palestine  peace  negotiations and put an end to a lengthy  deadlock.  However, despite that  progress, some  3.6 million Palestine refugees still lived in camps, and settlement construction  and expansion  continued in sharp contrast to statements by Israeli Government officials.

While noting  the recent evacuation of some of those settlements, he reiterated  the Committee's  position that all settlements on Palestinian land were illegal and should be dismantled.  They jeopardized the peace process and predetermined the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.

The representative of Finland (on behalf of the European  Union) said there were some difficulties encountered  during negotiations on the Sharm-el-Sheikh  Memorandum, including  the delay to both the second Israeli redeployment as  well  as to  engagement in actual negotiations on final status issues.  She called on the international community to fully  support that critical  phase in  the peace  process. The  Union insisted  that both parties abstain from any acts that might prejudge the final outcome of the negotiations or harm the  atmosphere.  Israeli settlement activities, including house demolitions, continued to concern the Union as  being illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Walter Balzan (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the report of the Committee.

Statements were also made this afternoon  by the representatives of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iran, South  Africa, Egypt, Algeria,  Tunisia, China  and Yemen.

The Assembly will meet again  tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine, and to begin  discussions on the situation in the Middle East.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly meets this afternoon  to begin  its consideration of the Question of Palestine.  It has before it the report of the Committee on the Exercise  of  the Inalienable  Rights  of the Palestinian People; the report  of  the  Secretary-General  on  the  question  of  Palestine,  which contains a note verbale dated 31  August from  the Permanent Representative of Jordan to  the United Nations; one dated  29 September from the  Observer of Palestine to the Organization and observations by  the Secretary-General on developments in the situation; and four related draft resolutions.

Background to the question of Palestine

At the  end of the Second World War, Palestine was a territory administered by the  United Kingdom under a mandate from the League of Nations.  Faced with escalating violence resulting from increasing Jewish migration to Palestine and Arab opposition  to such immigration, the United Kingdom brought the matter before the United Nations  in 1947.  The Assembly established a committee of 11 States to investigate  all matters relating to the question of Palestine and to recommend solutions.  The majority in the Committee recommended that Palestine be partitioned into an Arab State and Jewish State, with special international status for Jerusalem.

The Assembly at its second regular session adopted resolution 181 on 29 November  1947, by  whose terms  it approved  the partition plan of the majority.  The Plan was not accepted by the Palestinian Arabs, because  they would oppose  any scheme which provided  for the dissection, segregation or partition of  their country, or which  gave special  and preferential rights and status  to a minority. The  relinquishing of the  mandate by the  United Kingdom in May 1948 and the declaration of the Jewish State sparked a war between  Arab and Jewish communities in the area.  Fighting continued despite  the efforts  of a  United Nations  mediator.  By the time a truce called for by the Security Council came into  force in July 1948, Israel controlled much of the territory originally  allotted to  the Arab State.  Jordan and Egypt respectively administered the  remaining portions  of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The events  of 1947-48 created a serious refugee problem, with thousands of Palestinians being uprooted and ending up in Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria or Kuwait.  The United Nations quickly set up the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to support the refugees.  In December 1948, the  Assembly declared that refugees must be permitted to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours, and that those choosing not to return should be compensated.  Under resolution 194, the Assembly called for the demilitarization and internationalization of Jerusalem.  The resolution was never implemented, but its provisions on the special status of the city and the right of Palestinian  refugees to return have been reasserted by  the Assembly virtually every year since 1948.

Israel  was admitted into the United Nations in May 1949.  Between February and July of  that year, under the auspices of the United  Nations, armistice agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, Jordan,  Lebanon and Syria.

The Arab-Israeli dispute simmered for the next two decades, erupting into open  hostilities in 1956  and again  in 1967.   A turning point in Middle Eastern affairs was reached with the Six Day War of 1967 between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  By the time a ceasefire took effect, Israel had occupied Egyptian Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank  (including East Jerusalem) and part of the Syrian Golan Heights.  The Security Council in resolution 237 (1967) called upon Israel to ensure the safety and welfare of the  inhabitants where military  operations had taken place, and to facilitate the return of displaced persons.

Later, the Council adopted resolution 242 (1967) which laid  down the principles  for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East – the withdrawal of Israel's armed forces from territories  occupied in the recent conflict, and  recognition of  the sovereignty,  territorial integrity  and  political independence of every State in the area, along with the right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries.

When  another Arab-Israeli war broke out in October 1973, the Council adopted resolution 338 (1973) calling for an immediate  truce and asking the parties to begin the implementation of resolution 242 immediately after the ceasefire.  The Palestine Liberation  Organization (PLO), joined by  other Arab  States,  criticized  the  resolutions for  reducing the Palestinian problem to a question of international  charity and for  reducing the Palestinians to the status of refugees without national political rights.

Following the 1967 war, the question of Palestine began to be understood in a broader political context, rather than as a matter related only to refugees.  In November 1974, the  Assembly reaffirmed the inalienable rights of  the Palestinian people, including the right  to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property.  Those rights, as set out  in resolution 3236 (XXIX), have been reaffirmed by the Assembly every year since.  That same  year, the Assembly invited the PLO to participate  in its  proceedings as  an  observer.  The item entitled "The question of Palestine" has been on the Assembly's annual agenda since 1974.

Gravely concerned that no progress had  been achieved towards the exercise by the  Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, the Assembly on 10 November 1975, through resolution 3376 (XXX) decided to establish the Palestinian Rights Committee with the   primary  mandate to make recommendations to fulfill those rights.  Since 1976 the Assembly has endorsed recommendations from that Committee as a basis for solution to  the question of Palestine.

Report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

The report (document A/54/35), transmitted by the Secretary-General, states  that the  Committee  strongly supported  all  international efforts aimed at bringing about a speedy  resumption of the peace process and  a comprehensive, just  and lasting settlement  of the  question of  Palestine, and has participated  in all initiatives in this  regard.  It will  continue to do so until the question of Palestine is resolved  in all aspects and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized.

The  report describes the  mandate of the Committee, its organization of work over the  reporting period, a review of the situation in Palestine, action taken  by the  Committee  in  accordance with various Assembly resolutions, and action taken by the Department of Public Information.

The report notes that  the  territory  under  the  jurisdiction of  the Palestinian  Authority now represents a disjointed multitude of enclaves surrounded by  a dense  system of settlements, restricting  the freedom  of movement of the Palestinians and severely  affecting their livelihood.  This  has had a damaging effect on the Palestinian economy, and is likely to have an  impact on the  sustainability of  the socio-economic development of the Palestinians, including efforts at nation-building.

he report says 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 was  still deplorable.  In spite of some progress achieved in the negotiating process, 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 of paramount importance that the international  community do everything to protect the Palestinian people until the parties reach a permanent status agreement and it is fully implemented.

The  report goes  on to  say that as the parties embark  on the sensitive stage of the permanent status negotiations, the role of the United  Nations becomes even more critical as both guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of  international assistance for development.  Both those roles are essential to the  successful outcome of peace efforts, the report stresses.

Report of the Secretary-General

According  to  the  note  verbale  from the Permanent Representative of Jordan, contained in the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Middle East and  the question of Palestine (document A/54/457), Jordan is of the view that the outcome of the recent Israeli elections and the assumption of office by the new Government constitute  a plebiscite in which Israeli society voted in favour of peace.  The new Israeli  Government is urged to take decisive steps to honour  the agreements and  commitments that have been entered into and, in particular, to implement the Wye River Memorandum  of  October 1998, and to resume negotiations on the Syrian Lebanese tracks from the point at which they were suspended.  Jordan stresses the importance of the historic opportunity that  presents itself for the achievement of peace, emphasizing  that it must  not be allowed  to slip away.

The Wye River Memorandum addresses two critical issues: Israel's anxiety about security and Palestinian concern about acquiring sufficient  territory for an independent state.  Its full implementation, suspended last year by former Israeli Prime Minister  Binyamin Netanyahu, is viewed by the Palestinians as key to the revival of peace talks and  final status negotiations.  Newly elected Israeli Prime  Minister Ehud Barak has promised Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and President William Clinton of the United States that Israel will fully carry out its obligations.

Wye required Israel to withdraw its forces over a three-month period from an additional 13 per cent of the West Bank, with future redeployments to be negotiated in the final status talks.  Israel also agreed to resolve  issues relating to the promotion of   Palestinian economic development, establishment of an international airport and maritime port in Gaza, safe passage for Palestinians between Gaza and the West  Bank, and resumption and acceleration of final status negotiations with "a  determined effort to achieve the  mutual goal of reaching agreement by May 4, 1999".  In exchange, the Palestinian Authority   agreed to combat terrorist organizations, and to prevent illegal weapons distribution and  anti-Israel incitement.

The PLO also  agreed to nullify Palestinian National Charter provisions inconsistent with Mr. Arafat's September 1993 letter regarding  recognition of  Israel, and  to  participate  in a  number of bilateral and trilateral (United States,  Israel, Palestine)  committees  to oversee  implementation, with the United States Central Intelligence Agency acting as referee in disputes over security.  At the last minute, Mr. Netanyahu also insisted that President Clinton free Jonathan Pollard, the American imprisoned for  espionage on behalf  of Israel.  President Clinton promised to reexamine the case.

On September 13, 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Mr. Arafat agreed to  postpone negotiations on the most difficult issues.  The hope was  that through  the experiences  of peacemaking  during the  interim period there  would emerge among Israelis  and among  Palestinians the trust and confidence needed to make the  compromises necessary to resolve the most weighty matters.  The initial "Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements", which they signed, along with subsequent agreements, are popularly known as the Oslo Accords.

The  Declaration  of   Principles  outlined  a  transitional  period not exceeding five years, with  "permanent status  negotiations" beginning  not later  than the beginning of the  third year of  the interim period:  "It is understood that  these negotiations shall  cover remaining issues including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and  cooperation  with other neighbours, and other issues  of common interest."  The final  status talks (though formally  opened on May 6, 1996, and  due to have been concluded in  May of 1999) have been  halted since the 1996  Israeli  elections that brought Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud coalition to power.

According to the note verbale from the permanent  observer of Palestine contained  in the  report  of  the Secretary-General, the Palestinian side hopes that the United Nations will contribute towards the efforts being undertaken to help push the peace process forward.   The involvement of the Council would also be a very important factor in the  interests of that process.  For the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine to be achieved through the current Middle East peace process, says the note, it is necessary  to respect the mutual recognition between the two sides and the basis upon which the process was initiated – namely, the principle  of the  return of land for  peace and the implementation of Council resolutions 242 and 338.  There is also an international  consensus that the final settlement should be concluded sometime between May and September  2000.  The Millennium Summit should represent a deadline for reaching this.  The Palestinian side is determined to meet this deadline, and strongly believes that Palestine musts participate as a Member State in that Summit.

The Secretary-General in his observations states  that  the signing  in Cairo of  the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on 4 September by Israel and  the PLO brings with it cautious optimism that the  Middle East peace process has been brought back on track.  The new Agreement contains a timeline for implementation of all the commitments the two sides have made since the signing in Washington in 1993 of the Declaration of Principles  on Interim Self-Government Arrangements.  It also states that the two sides have reaffirmed their understanding  that the permanent status negotiations  will lead to  implementation of Council resolution 242 and 338, and that they have agreed  to conclude all permanent status issues within one year from the resumption of those negotiations – by September 2000.

Draft resolution on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

By the terms of a 22-power draft resolution (document A/54/L.42), the Assembly would  ask the Committee to continue to keep under review the situation relating to the Question  of Palestine, and to report and make suggestions to the Assembly or the Security Council, as appropriate.  It would further authorize the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to  make such  adjustments in its approved programme of work as it may consider appropriate and necessary  in the light of developments, and to give special emphasis to the need to mobilize support and assistance  for the Palestinian.

It would ask the Committee to  continue to  extend its  cooperation and support to  Palestinian and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to mobilize   international support for the achievement  by  the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights  and for a peaceful settlement of the Question of Palestine, and to involve additional NGOs in its work.  It would also request the United  Nations  Conciliation  Commission  for Palestine,  established under General Assembly resolution 194 (III), and other United Nations bodies associated with  the question  of Palestine, to continue to cooperate fully with the Committee and to make available to  it, as its request, the relevant information and documentation.

Draft resolution on Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat

By the terms of a  22-power text (document A/54/L.43),  the Assembly would ask  the   Secretary-General to continue providing the Division for Palestinian  Rights with  the necessary resources, and to ensure that it continues to carry out its programme of work as detailed in other relevant resolutions, in consultation with the Committee on the Exercise  of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and under its guidance.  The Assembly  would also ask the Secretary-General to ensure the continued cooperation of the Department of Public Information and other units of the Secretariat in enabling the Division to perform  its tasks and in covering adequately the various aspects of the question of Palestine.  The Assembly would also invite all Governments and organizations to extend  their cooperation to the Committee and  the Division in  the performance of their tasks.

Draft resolution on special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat

By the terms of a 22-power draft resolution (document A/54/L.44), the Assembly would consider that the Department's special information programme on the question of Palestine is very useful in raising the awareness of the international community concerning the  question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, including the achievements of  the peace process, and that the programme is contributing effectively to  an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and supportive of the peace process.

It would also ask  the Department,  in full  cooperation and coordination with  the  Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, to continue its special information programme for the biennium 2000-2001, in particular to  expand its collection  of audio-visual material on the question of Palestine, to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the area, to organize international, regional and national seminars or encounters for journalists, and to continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian  people in the  field of media development.

The Assembly would also ask the Department to promote the Bethlehem 2000 Project, including the preparation and dissemination of publications, audio-visual material and the establishment of a "Bethlehem 2000" site on the United Nations Internet home page.

Draft Resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine

By the terms of a 23-power draft resolution (A/54/L.45) on the peaceful settlement of  the question of Palestine, the General Assembly would reaffirm the necessity of achieving a  peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.   It would stress  the necessity for commitment to the principle of land for peace and the  implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338(1973), which form the basis of the Middle East peace process; and the need for immediate and scrupulous implementation of the agreements reached between the parties.

The Assembly would urge Member States to expedite the provision of economic and  technical assistance to the Palestinian people during this critical period.  It would also emphasize the importance for the United Nations to play a more active and expanded role  in the current peace process and in the implementation of the Declaration of Principles.

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, welcomed the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh  Memorandum which had revived  the Israeli-Palestine peace negotiations and put an end to a lengthy deadlock.  It had also brought about encouraging changes, such as further Israeli  redeployment from parts of the West Bank; the release of 350 Palestinian detainees; and an agreement on safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  He hoped that the negotiating parties would be able to conclude the framework and final settlement agreements in strict compliance with the ambitious timetable.  He said that those positive signs had  given the Committee reason to believe the current negotiations had got off to a good start.

However, despite that progress, he was disheartened by the fact that more than 50 years after the partition of Palestine, some 3.6 million Palestine refugees still lived in  camps; and that settlement construction and expansion had continued, in sharp contrast to statements by the Israeli Government officials.  He noted the recent evacuation of some of those settlements, but reiterated the Committee's position of principle that all settlements on Palestinian land were illegal and should be dismantled.  He said that they jeopardized the peace process and predetermined the  outcome of the permanent status negotiations.

The many years of  suffering and the current  obstacles had not broken the will of Palestinians, who continued to hope that the peace process was the only way out of  their predicament.  He called on all supporters of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to  mobilize their efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting  settlement to the  question of Palestine.  His Committee was fully committed to a programme of work which  would work effectively towards this objective.

Since economic and social development was essential for peace and security, the Committee had always tried to stress the need to provide assistance to the Palestinian  people.  He expressed appreciation to the international donor community for its continued economic assistance to the Palestinians in various fields.  He concluded by reaffirming  that the United Nations had a permanent responsibility  with regard  to the question of Palestine, until it was solved in all its aspects in a  satisfactory manner and in accordance with international legitimacy.

WALTER BALZAN, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the report of  the Committee.  It took note, he said, of 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 safe passage routes, and the  timetable for the conclusion of  a framework and  final settlement agreements.  The report  also drew special attention  to the serious problem posed by the settlement construction in the  Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

The report noted that, recent breakthroughs in the peace process notwithstanding, the Palestinian people still carried the heavy burden of occupation.  The territory under the  jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority now represented a  disjointed multitude of enclaves surrounded by settlements, restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinians and severely affecting their livelihood.  That had had a damaging effect on the Palestinian economy, and was 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 expressed concern in its report at the situation on the spot, with the occupying Power continuing to create "facts on the ground" and to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  It also noted that the special information programmme on the question of Palestine of the United Nations Department of Public Information had continued to be an important tool in informing the media and public opinion on issues relating to that question.  The Committee would  request that the  special information  programme be  continued, with the necessary flexibility, as might be required by developments affecting the question of Palestine.

FAROUK KADDOUMI (Permanent Observer of Palestine) said the United  Nations did not empower any state or group to unilaterally act outside the United Nations in dealing with international disputes.  More than 50 years had elapsed since the General Assembly had  first become preoccupied with the question of Palestine – the crux of the Middle East  conflict which jeopardized peace and security in the region.  Numerous resolutions and conferences had all failed because Israel refused to accept the principles of  international legitimacy in an attempt at procrastination and prevarication while using force and war.  The issues of the Gaza strip, the West Bank, Eastern Al-Quds al-Sharif and the Syrian Golan had all been referred to in resolutions which called on Israel to adhere  to their rulings.

He said the Declaration of Principles, or Oslo Accords (September 1993), provided for the return of displaced persons and called for  modalities to facilitate their  readmission into  their territories.  So far Israel had impeded all work, stalled meetings and failed  to attend to the 800,000 displaced who were suffering.  From Israel's advent 50 years ago to the present, Israeli settlement had faced wide opposition in the Arab territories, particularly from those who had  shouldered the high burden  of the  Palestinian diaspora  over the last half century.  Al-Quds-al-Sharif, settlement, refugees, borders and water were all the issues to be addressed in the final status negotiations.  Meanwhile, Israel  continued to pursue its settlement policy and other accompanying hideous practices.  Such behaviour had even prompted United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to remark  that such policies were destructive to the peace process.

On 25 March, he said, Heads of State and Government of the European Union again affirmed their support for the peace process, the principle of land for peace (Madrid 1991), the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination – including  the option to establish an independent state – and called for the  two parties to negotiate in a way that was not prejudicial to that right.  The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud  Barak, thumbed his nose at the grave of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin when he rejected a return to the 1967 borders.  Strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel was further enhanced when Mr. Barak visited Washington earlier this year.  The question to be asked was how could that cooperation be explained?

He said the occupation  and annexation of  a territory by force could  not be accepted as a point of departure.  Human rights could  not be bought or sold, and  no state or  government could co-opt those rights.  Al-Quds al-Sharif was  the crux of the conflict in the region.  Addressing the issue of Jerusalem would contribute greatly to peace.  The first step to the success of  the peace process would be acceptance by Israel and adherence  to resolution 242 (1967), and its withdrawal  from all territory occupied since 1967.  One also had to wonder about the role of the United Nations as the sponsor of the peace  process.  The United States had slackened in prompting Israel to adhere to its  commitments.  There  was a stalemate on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.  The United States  had also devoted its efforts to cooperation with Israel with a simultaneous  reduction in the levels of response to Palestinian needs.  The United States was thus bringing pressure to bear on the Palestinian side to make it acquiesce to Israeli demands.

He said the three Arab tracks, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, were all linked.  He also noted that the PLO was still on the list of the Congress of the United States as a terrorist organization, even though Israel and the PLO had agreed to mutual recognition a few years ago.  While many States had raised the representation  of the PLO, the  United States kept an empty office in Washington.  Creation of a Palestinian  State was the key for  the Palestinian people's exercise their inalienable rights.  Finding a  solution to the conflict was crucial to peace in the Middle East.  If the current policy of double standards was pursued, and if the United States failed to participate in the search for a  solution, the  opportunity for  peace and stability in the Middle East would be lost.

MARJATTA RASI (Finland), on behalf of  the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic,  Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and Liechtenstein, said the signature of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum and the resumption of the permanent status talks required courage and determination from Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Authority President Arafat.  She welcomed  progress made  in implementing  the Memorandum, that included two releases of Palestinian prisoners, opening  the southern safe passage route, and the first Israeli redeployment.  However, difficulties encountered during negotiations on the northern safe  passage route  were not  progressing as  planned, the  second Israeli redeployment had  been delayed, and so had engagement in actual negotiations on final status issues.  She called on the international community to  lend its  full support to that critical phase in the peace process.

An  important milestone in economic cooperation between the parties was the inauguration of the Gaza Airport in November 1998, and parties should complete  negotiations within the agreed timeframe on remaining economic issues, particularly the industrial zone in Karni and the Gaza port, she continued.  The European Union was  insisting on the parties abstaining from any acts which could  prejudge the final outcome of the negotiations or harm the atmosphere.  Israeli settlement activities, including  house demolitions, continued to concern the Union as being illegal and an obstacle to  peace.   She stressed the importance of  commitment  to the principles  of democracy and  respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

She  said that  the visits  by  President  Ahtisaari and Foreign Minister Halonen, as   representatives of the European Union, underlined its unwavering support for the peace process.  She noted that the Union  would continue to make  constructive and effective  contributions to restoring and strengthening confidence between the two  parties.  Also, improving investor confidence and promoting sustainability and greater self-sufficiency of  the Palestinian  economy were important  to the  progress of  the peace process.  In providing economic and technical assistance, the Union would concentrate on helping  to build a  sound and  prosperous Palestinian economy, aimed at facilitating the territory's  social and political stability.  Economic cooperation between the countries in the region, as well as between those countries and the European Union, would cement genuine peace, she added.

FAWZI BIN ABDUL MAJEED SHOBOKSHI (Saudi Arabia) said he would have loved to make an  optimistic statement to the General Assembly after the resumption of the Israeli- Palestinian peace  process, but  regretted  that this was not  possible because of the  Israeli Government's attitude to  the question  of settlements.  Far  from giving cause for optimism, its attitude threatened the peace process.  The Israeli Government had built  2,600 new settlements in three months – just three weeks after the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum was signed.

That action, he said, was  inconsistent with  Israel's public  statements about  its  desire for a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  The Israeli  Government had tried to justify its action by claiming that the settlements had been built to meet normal growth.  He dismissed this, saying the figure for normal growth was two per  cent, whereas Israel had built 1,200 new units in a 2000-unit settlement – which represented a growth of over 50 per cent.

The  Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had rightly condemned the action, describing  it  as a destruction of the peace process and seizure of Palestinian land.  At  a time when the  whole of the international community was supporting the peace process, the Israeli action did not reflect a desire for lasting peace.

He  stressed  that the  establishment of Israel and its occupation of Palestine had  damaged and stifled the Palestinian economy, resulting in a decline  in gross national  product, high unemployment and general hardship.  It was incumbent on the international  community to support the  Palestinian economy so that Palestinians could live in dignity.

JASMI MOHAMED YUSOFF (Malaysia) stated that he was hopeful that the new land-for-peace formula, an expression of the willingness of Israeli Prime Minister Barak to continue  with the peace talks, would provide new impetus for the peace process.  The  Palestinians had demonstrated their commitment to that process and he  expected a similar commitment by  the Israelis.  The new Government of Israel had issued 2,600 tenders for settlement construction in the occupied territories during  its first three months,  in comparison with an average of 3,000 per year under the previous  government, he noted.   That  did not  contribute to generating the kind of confidence among Palestinians that was necessary for  a final resolution:  it only contributed to their  cynicism  as  they remembered  broken  promises and unfulfilled pledges regarding the Oslo and Wye River agreements.  The onus now lay with the Israeli Government to keep the deal of the  Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum.

He said  the United Nations had an important role to play in  ensuring realization of  the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and must continue to be involved in the  peace process as the guardian of international legitimacy and in mobilizing and providing international assistance for development.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East must be given enough funding, and attempts by the two related Committees to fulfill their mandates must be supported.  He believed that economic  growth and development and improved social and living conditions of the Palestinian people  were necessary for peace to take root and flourish, and called on the international  community to provide support to rehabilitate the economy.  Also, he was confident that under the wise and able leadership of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian people would triumph in their struggle for self-determination, including the right to establish an independent  and sovereign State in their homeland.

HADI NEJAD-HOSSEINIAN (Iran) said that international outrage against  and condemnation of Israel had not changed the pattern of its inhuman behaviour towards the Palestinians and  its illegal policies in the occupied territories.  Israel had trampled on the most fundamental  rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination, which had resulted in millions of people being driven into diaspora.  Also, the policy of expanding Jewish settlements and  the process  of judaization of Al-Quds  al-Sharif, of paramount importance to the Islamic world, continued to be in force, regardless of the fact that they were illegal and violated United Nations resolutions and international law.  The Israeli regime should be forced to heed the call of the global community and end the practice of collective punishment, he stressed.

The Israeli regime had always tried to  neutralize the United Nations  and limit its involvement in the question of Palestine, he continued.  However, the real aim of that  country had been to dissociate  the issue  from international law and legitimacy.  The  Organization, as the only universal and the most representative body of the international community, had a permanent responsibility peace and justice to a region marked for more than half a century with crises, constant tension and confrontation.

He stated  that Israeli actions  and policies had  been the  main cause of instability and insecurity in the region, and the current situation in the Middle East was still marked  with wounds and injustice resulting from Israel's policy of expansionism.  Continued  occupation of Palestine, Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan were all representations of that persistent policy of domination and aggression.  The current diplomatic efforts of  the peace process were unable to restore the inalienable rights of the  Palestinian people,  and merely  led to further negligent of  their rights.   It provided Israel with another opportunity to continue with its policies of occupation, suppression and invasion against the  Palestinian people, as well as other nations in the region.

DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South  Africa) said that his  country recognized the State of  Palestine and had established  full diplomatic relations with it.  South Africa had also been a member of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights  of the  Palestinian People since 1997.  One of the Committee's important functions was to provide  a forum for discussion for governments,  inter-governmental  and non-governmental  organizations.  At this historic juncture for the Palestinian people, he noted, the continued support of the United Nations could not be underestimated.

He stated that the unanimous support, earlier this year, of the international community for Bethlehem 2000 was heartening, as he thought that creating a strong, self- sufficient and sustainable economic infrastructure for Bethlehem would provide  a sound underpinning for social and political stability – a prerequisite for peace.  Peaceful  negotiation was the only way to ensure lasting  peace, security and stability in the region.  With the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum in September, he hoped that  the current peace process would continue towards a final settlement between the two sides.  Endorsing the resolutions would send a clear message that until a comprehensive, just and  lasting settlement was reached, the question of Palestine remained the  permanent responsibility of the United Nations.

YEHUDA LANCRY (Israel) said  since the Oslo  agreements, relations between the  Palestinian and Israeli peoples, long disturbed by the Middle East conflict and its tragic succession of violence and wars had moved onto promising terrain.  The famous 1993  handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in Washington D.C. had marked a new genesis for Israelis and Palestinians.  It constituted shift from a frozen  attitude to  a logic of peace,  where  mutual recognition  was essential.  Mutual recognition was a

prerequisite for dialogue between the two peoples.  Permanently expanding in its  applications, it was an instrument that would lead irreversibly to peace.

Since the Oslo agreements, such mutual recognition had been more than ever important.   The signing of the Hebron agreement of 1997 and the Wye River Memorandum  of 1998 was an   expression of trust in political integration.  Mutual recognition was also crucial for the present Israeli Government of Ehud Barak.  Pluralistic acceptance, in a framework of  mutual respect for their differences, was equally essential.  Moreover, mutual recognition  would create a vital  momentum and discourse for peace that would give  both Israelis and Palestinians the chance to escape from their doctrinaire straitjackets.  The Government of Edhud Barak, following its strategy for peace, was determined to put an end to the conflict between Palestinians and Israel and to begin an era of peace and prosperity.

AHMED ABOULGHEIT (Egypt) said that in the absence of a just and comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine, the Middle East would remain a region dominated by instability and tension.  It was important for Israel as well to recognize that fact.  The Israeli Government had failed to follow a clear and decisive approach in putting an end to settlement activities.  Moreover, he considered that continued support for the illegal and  illegitimate position of the settlers in the Occupied Palestinian territory was a blatant  violation of all the relevant United Nations resolutions.  It also violated Israel's  commitments as an occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibited it from transferring its civilian population to the territory it occupied.  In that regard,  the continuation of Israeli settlement activities in the occupied  Palestinian territory could only have a destructive impact on the peace process.

He expressed his concern  about the illegal Israeli measures to alter  the status of  Jerusalem, in particular measures supporting and condoning  the expansionist settlement activities in East Jerusalem and its surroundings, with the feverish aim of consolidating  the city's illegal annexation by Israel.  Egypt would continue to reaffirm the  Palestinian's right to occupied East Jerusalem,  in spite of its  acknowledgment that the issue of Jerusalem was part of the final status negotiations.

The question of the Palestinian refugees, he continued, was also  among issues  to be dealt with in the  negotiations on the final status.  For the first time in 50 years, that question stood closer to a possible solution, permitting Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and to compensation if  they chose not to return.

ABDELKADER MESDOUA (Algeria) said that as the United Nations celebrated the  International Day of Solidarity for the Palestinian People, every representative in the  General Assembly recognized the need for the international community to continue to be involved in the issue until a just settlement was found.

He said that more than 50 years after the recognition of the right to self- determination of the Palestinian people, they were still victims of injustice, living under  occupation and humiliation, while the world had seen the elimination of  colonization and  recognized the  right of all peoples to self-determination.  Algeria believed that the only way to settle the Middle East problem and the question of Palestine was linked to the recognition of the  rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state, with the holy city of Jerusalem as its capital.

Algeria supported any sincere initiative to settle  the Middle  East conflict and the question of Palestine in a just and lasting way; however, it was not prepared to support  efforts to find pretexts for delaying  or manipulating the situation, he added.

Turning to the issue of support from African  states, he said that the Palestinian  leader Yasser Arafat had received a fraternal welcome from Member States of the Organization of African Unity at their summit in Algiers.  African states had  traditionally always stood against occupation, colonialism and hegemony, and in favour of a people's right to exercise its inalienable rights.  They therefore supported the struggle  of the Palestinian people for self-determination.

As the world stood on the threshold of the third millennium, the United Nations must play its role as an international organization responsible for maintaining peace and security in the most effective way, he concluded.

M. ALI HACHANI (Tunisia) said that despite positive developments on the Palestinian- Israeli track, the situation on the ground was still disquieting as a result of the continuous Israeli policy of creating new facts.  That country continued its  practices in occupied Al-Quds al-Sharif and other Palestinian territory, threatening  the achievement of   a comprehensive, just and durable peace which would guarantee the Palestinians their inalienable rights — including the right to self-determination, the establishment of an independent State with Al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital, and an end to Israeli occupation.   The attention of the international community must once again turn to Israel, in order to emphasize the importance of establishing peace and for that country to respect its undertakings and obligations.  Israel must also respect the timetable agreed upon in the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum and return to the negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.

He said  his country once more called on the international  community to intensify efforts in  the Middle East.  It must move  quickly to increase favourable conditions by   making Israel respect its international obligations, including Land for Peace, Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), and other relevant resolutions.  The responsibility of the United Nations became more important in this critical phase of the situation as currently experienced by Palestinians.  The appointment of the Special United Nations Coordinator for the Middle East peace process was a key step by Secretary-General  Kofi Annan.  That person must move the peace process along and protect it from every stumbling block.  He also appealed to the international donor community to increase the  volume of assistance to the PLO in all fields.  There was likewise a need to intensify efforts to support the UNRWA.

SHEN GUOFANG (China) said  the fact that the  Palestinian people now had a "self-rule"  Government on their own territory  was  one  step closer  to regaining their legitimate  national rights and establishing an  independent State of Palestine.  The signing  of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum removed the  obstacles to  the  Wye River  accord, as  did  the relaunching  of  the permanent status talks and opening of safe passages in the Palestinian Autonomous Area.  He hoped that the parties concerned  would continue and direct  their actions on  the basis  of relevant United Nations resolutions and the principle of "land for peace".

However, even after gaining self-rule, the Autonomous Area still faced difficulties in  developing its economy and the livelihoods of the Palestinian people, he continued.  In  that light, the international community, particularly developed countries, should provide   whatever support and assistance it could to the Palestinian people.  The United Nations, the largest and most authoritative intergovernmental international organization, should  also play a more active and effective role in resolving regional conflict and safeguarding world peace.  He noted that the Chinese Government had given staunch support to the cause  of the Palestinian people through various  multilateral, bilateral  and other channels.

NAGIBA AHMED AL-NADARI (Yemen) said the question of Palestine continued to be one of the major obstacles to peace in the Middle East.  She welcomed the recent adoption of the draft resolution on Bethlehem 2000, which would constitute a turning point in the achievement of peace and tolerance in the region.  She also expressed the hope that the peace process would proceed in order to restore the inalienable rights of the Palestinians.   In that context, it was important to take into account their right to return to their homes.

Israel's occupation, the expansion of existing settlements, and the demolition of  homes constituted a huge obstacle to the peace process.  Israel must realize that the  establishment of an independent state of Palestine would end the crisis situation in the  Middle East.  All Arab States wished to establish peace in the region to create a developed, safe and secure Middle East.  To that end, the restoration of Palestinian rights was an imperative.

* *** *