Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
300th Meeting (AM)
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning discussed several major developments in recent weeks, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's March visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and meetings between the Palestinian and Israeli leadership.
Informing the Committee of recent developments, its Chairman, Paul Badji ( Senegal), told delegates that the Secretary-General, during his visit to the region from 24 to 27 March, had stressed the need to give the new Palestinian National Unity Government some "political space". Mr. Ban had stated that he had been struck by the Palestinian people's deep longing for their own State, and had found deeply troubling the network of checkpoints, the settlements and the wall in the West Bank. The General Assembly was likely to be briefed on Monday regarding the Secretary-General's trip to the region.
Mr. Badji also touched on the nineteenth Arab Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Arab leaders had re-endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In addition, he noted that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas had met in Jerusalem this month to address travel and trade restrictions, and general outlines of Palestinian statehood. Both sides had pledged to meet twice a month, which was a very welcome development.
The Palestinian Observer, Riyad H. Mansour, told the Committee that Israel's continued grabbing of Palestinian property around occupied East Jerusalem seemed to demonstrate an intention to entrench its illegal settlements with a view towards annexation. He said the occupation was shredding the territorial integrity of the Palestinian territory and threatened the kind of solution envisioned in the Road Map. Furthermore, the numerous checkpoints that dissected Palestinian territory continued to restrict people's movement, including for humanitarian and medical personnel.
A statement by David Whitley, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), revealed a "slight improvement" in the movement problems in the region, in that the Karni crossing was now operating regularly and for longer hours. But, he said, the number of trucks able to use that crossing remained below the level agreed to by Israel in the Agreement on Movement and Access, hindering the distribution of food by the Agency.
Mr. Whitley expressed concern, as well, over the restrictions to the movement of Palestinian staff and international staff without diplomatic status, which did not seem to show signs of improvement.
Also today, the Committee heard a report by the Chairman on the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which had attended by 76 Governments, as well as representatives of civil society, media organizations and United Nations agencies. Held at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome on 22 and 23 March, the Meeting had produced a final document, in which participants welcomed the formation of the Palestinian Government of National Unity.
In the same document, participants expressed hope that such positive political developments would restore the flow of economic and humanitarian assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They also expressed the view that the international community was obliged to support the new Government without preconditions, and to lift the aid restriction imposed on it.
As for the Committee's own activities, Mr. Badji reported that members of the Bureau had met with the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, who had reaffirmed that he would give particular attention to the Committee's activities.
In addition, Mr. Badji announced that the United Nations would hold an African meeting on the question of Palestine, to be held on 9 and 10 May, and a public forum in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace on 11 May, both in Pretoria, South Africa. The objective of those meetings was to encourage broader international action, and a delegation would be sent by the Committee to attend those meetings.
The Committee will meet again at a date to be announced.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to consider developments in the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; the report of the Chairman of the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on 22 and 23 March 2007; the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, to be held from 9 to 10 May, and the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to be held on 11 May in Pretoria, South Africa; and other matters.
PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, updated members on activities since the Committee's last meeting on 27 February. He noted that on 22 and 23 March, the Committee had held the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace at FAO headquarters in Rome.
From 24 to 27 March, he continued, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where he had met with a wide range of Israeli and Palestinian personalities, including President Mahmoud Abbas. He had also received a briefing on final status issues, and held a round-table discussion with Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. In addition, he had met with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Secretary-General, he went on, had been struck by the Palestinian people's deep longing for their own State and the many frustrations they faced daily. The Secretary-General had also seen the network of checkpoints, the settlements and the wall in the West Bank, which he said were deeply troubling. He had stressed the need to give the new Palestinian Government of National Unity some "political space". The Secretary-General would probably brief the General Assembly on his trip next Monday.
He said that, on 29 March, at the nineteenth Arab Summit in Riyadh, Arab leaders had re-endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The Riyadh declaration had affirmed a just and comprehensive peace as the strategic option for the "Arab nation". On 15 April, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas had met in Jerusalem to address travel and trade restrictions, as well as general outlines of Palestinian statehood. Both sides had pledged to meet twice a month, which was a very welcome development.
On 26 April, the members of the Committee's Bureau had met with the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, who had underscored that the Secretary-General believed that the situation in the Middle East was one of the priorities for the United Nations, and reaffirmed that he would give particular attention to the Committee's activities.
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said he had had the honour of being part of the Palestinian delegation that had met with the United Nations Secretary-General in Ramallah. The Secretary-General had seen first-hand the devastation caused by the wall, the danger of the illegal settlements and the difficult situation of the Palestinian people, and had the opportunity to talk to a representative of Palestinian prisoners. The Security Council, meeting two days ago, had led to serious discussions about the latest developments. He had also sent letters to the Secretary-General, the Council and the General Assembly about the latest developments, including about the crimes against Palestinian civilians, particularly last weekend, when nine Palestinians had been killed, including children.
He said multiple efforts had been exerted by Arab countries, the Palestinian Government and Quartet members, aimed at reviving the peace process. Such efforts had rekindled hopes for a breakthrough that could create an environment more conducive to dialogue. Regrettably, Israel, the occupying Power, continued to carry out illegal practices aimed at sustaining its 40-year occupation, as well as its collective punishment against the Palestinian people. It also continued its "land-grab", including by annexing Palestinian lands around occupied East Jerusalem. It was clear that the occupying Power intended to entrench its illegal settlements with a view towards annexation.
The occupation was shredding the territorial integrity of the Palestinian territory and threatened the kind of solution envisioned in the Road Map, he said. The numerous checkpoints had dissected Palestinian territory and severely restricted freedom of movement, including for humanitarian and medical personnel. The security pretext could not justify those checkpoints. They functioned clearly as part of the attempt to constantly harass and subjugate the Palestinian people. "The Palestinian reality is harsh and depressing. Yet, despite all of this and despite the internal difficulties we have had to face, in terms of law and order on the ground, the Palestinian leadership, widely supported by the Palestinian people, continues to earnestly pursue peace."
He said the National Unity Government had given President Abbas the mandate to seek peace. The ceasefire among factions remained in force. However, Israel had not reciprocated in any way. He wondered why Israel had not accepted the offer to extend the ceasefire in the West Bank. The victimizer -- the occupier -- promoted a culture for its people to live in fear of their victims. If there was calm, how could they continue to shore up support for unjustifiable actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people? Those promoting the culture of fear kept opposing any steps that might revive the peace process, and wanted to keep Gaza a massive prison.
That unlawful situation must be brought to an end, he said, as it would sabotage any progress made. There was a window of opportunity, however. The Palestinian National Unity Government had expressed respect for all previous agreements. President Abbas had been mandated by the Government, including Hamas, to negotiate a just and final peace settlement with Israel. In addition, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative had been reaffirmed in Riyadh. Full peace and normalization of relations were offered for full withdrawal from the territories to 1967 lines, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State and a solution for the Palestinian refugee problem.
He said those factors "provided us -- Palestine, Israel, the international community, the members of the Quartet and, of course, the Security Council -- with an historic opportunity. We must build upon the momentum generated and proceed with the peace process in a serious manner, with the fortitude to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably arise towards the achievement of a final peace settlement."
The Palestinian side was willing and ready to negotiate unconditionally final status issues, if there was a partner for peace at the other side who was also willing to negotiate without conditions. "Those who continue to impose conditions before negotiations do not want peace," he said. He stressed that, in order to make negotiations fair and successful, they should be pursued in the framework of an international conference, because all successful negations between the Arab and Israeli sides had been conducted with the help of a third party. That option should be seriously considered and supported.
He stressed that the Road Map should be revived and international law, including Security Council resolutions, should be respected. No peace effort could succeed, however, if the current crisis situation was allowed to continue. The international community, including the Council, must take steps to compel Israel, the occupying Power, to cease its human rights violations against the Palestinian people. Further, the Palestinian people should not continue to be punished and burdened with endless conditions and unjust sanctions.
ANDREW WHITLEY, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), noted that there had been several positive political developments since the Committee last met, such as the formation of the Palestinian National Unity Government and the reinvigoration of Arab peace efforts. He also remarked on the increased pace of Quartet efforts and the Secretary-General's heightened attention to the situation. Such efforts had in many ways helped to improve the Agency's delivery of humanitarian assistance.
However, he hoped to see an early return to law and order, since widespread lawlessness continued to have a negative impact on the Agency's work, and affected the bystanders to the Arab-Israeli clashes, such as the region's children. He reported a slight improvement in the movement problems that had plagued the Agency's work for several years. For instance, the Karni crossing was now operating regularly and for longer hours. But still, the number of trucks able to use that crossing remained below the level agreed to by Israel in the Agreement on Movement and Access, hindering the distribution of food by the Agency.
He expressed concern, as well, over the restrictions to the movement of Palestinian staff and international staff without diplomatic status, which did not seem to show signs of improvement.
He said the Agency had drawn up an original budget of $487 million for 2007, but the amount must be reduced due to a poor donor response. But the tight squeeze felt by the Agency, leading to the halt of several projects in some instances, might well be eased, since some funds received late last year could be put to use in the current year. So far, the total sum of pledges stood at $367 million, with notable increases by Norway, Canada, Ireland, Finland and Italy.
He said that the population in Gaza, where the needs were greatest, would have to bear the brunt of those budget cuts, in the form of major cutbacks to cash assistance and the Agency's temporary job programme. The food aid programme, which supported 1 million people in Gaza, in particular, would also suffer. It had been forecasted that food aid would run out in August in the West Bank and in September in Gaza. Hopefully, more serious efforts would be expended in the second half of the year to increase funding for the Agency, since humanitarian needs in Gaza, where 80 per cent of the population lived below the official poverty line, were at their greatest.
The Committee Chairman then proceeded to report on the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held in Rome from 22 to 23 March at FAO headquarters. He said some 76 Governments had attended the Meeting, along with representatives from the Holy See, Palestine and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Also attending the gathering had been representatives of 5 intergovernmental organizations, 5 United Nations agencies, 29 civil society organizations and 8 media organizations. The Meeting had consisted of an opening session, three plenary sessions and a closing session.
Accompanying him to the Meeting, as part of the Committee's delegation, had been the Committee's Vice-Chairmen, Zahir Tanin ( Afghanistan) and Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz ( Cuba); Rapporteur Victor Camilleri ( Malta); and Palestinian Observer Riyad Mansour.
He said the Meeting had been opened by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, and statements had been made by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and by Qais Abdul-Kareem, Head of the Social Affairs Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. He himself had delivered a statement on behalf of the Committee.
He said that, at the two-day Meeting, participants had noted that feelings of mutual distrust were fuelling a sense of extremism in the region and, indeed, throughout the world. To promote dialogue between cultures and civilizations, participants saw the influence of religious leaders aimed at overcoming differences and misconceptions between Western and Islamic societies as key. Participants were convinced that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would contribute greatly to fostering that dialogue. There to discuss the Alliance of Civilizations initiative had been the Head of the Supreme Council of Preserving Islamic Holy Sites and a member of the Board of Directors of Rabbis for Human Rights.
He said participants had discussed the important role played by national parliaments and interparliamentary organizations in promoting a settlement of the Palestinian question. That was particularly true in terms of strengthening international law, the democratic process and institution-building. That discussion had seen the participation of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Knesset, along with parliamentarians from South Africa, the Russian Federation and the European Parliament.
Participants had expressed the hope, he said, that parties would overcome their differences in the quest for a final settlement, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, terms of reference and principles of the Madrid Conference of 1991,the 2002 Peace Initiative of the Arab League and the Road Map. They had voiced support for calls for convening an international peace conference.
At the Meeting's close, a final document had been adopted, in which participants welcomed the formation of the Palestinian Government of National Unity and expressed the hope that that development would allow the international community to restore economic and humanitarian assistance. Further, in the document, participants expressed the view that the international community had an obligation to support the new Government without preconditions and to lift the aid restriction imposed on it.
A report of the International Meeting would be issued as a publication of the Division for Palestinian Rights and circulated at the upcoming session of the General Assembly, the Chairman stated.
Separately, on 24 March, the Committee's delegation had consulted with 26 non-governmental organization representatives on its programme of cooperation with civil society, he said. Those civil society representatives came from Europe, North America and the Middle East, including both Palestinians and Israelis. The day-long consultation had been focused on ways to reach out to new organizations active on the question of Palestine.
At the same time, he said, civil society representatives had informed the Committee about their projects and initiatives, in particular, in preparation of the fortieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It had been their view that a United Nations civil society conference be organized by the Committee at the end of June in Brussels. The Committee Bureau would take those suggestions into consideration, while preparing for the anniversary.
The Committee then took note of the report of the International Meeting.
Following that, Mr. BADJI introduced the provisional agendas for the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, to be held on 9 and 10 May, and the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to be held on 11 May, both in Pretoria, South Africa.
He said the objective of the meetings was to encourage broad international action, including by African States, in support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and achieving a solution to the conflict, based on a shared vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Participants would discuss the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; international efforts aimed at achieving sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace; and African solidarity with the Palestinian people's aspirations for independence and statehood.
The provisional agendas for the two meetings were approved.
He then announced that the Committee delegation to the two meetings would be composed of Rapporteur Victor Camilleri ( Malta), Dumisani Kumalo ( South Africa), Palestinian Observer Riyad Mansour and himself.
In other matters, Mr. BADJI announced that a special meeting would be convened on 7 June to mark 40 years of occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The Committee would focus on the need for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, based on norms of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. In order to recognize the important work done by civil society organizations in monitoring the situation on the ground, the Committee would invite representatives from some of those organizations to share their findings.
For information media - not an official record