Convinced that achieving a final and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine — the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict –- would serve as the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East, the General Assembly today adopted resolutions concerning Palestine, Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan, among others.
The Assembly expressed grave concern over the tragic events in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past four years, adopting a text on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine by a vote of 161 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States), with 10 abstentions (Cameroon, Haiti, Honduras, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Vanuatu).
By that text, the world body stressed the need for Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and the realization of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights, primarily the right to self-determination and to an independent State. It also stressed the need for a speedy end to the reoccupation of Palestinian population centres and for the complete cessation of all acts of violence, including military attacks, destruction and acts of terror.
Additionally, the Assembly called on both sides, the diplomatic Quartet and other interested parties to work to halt the situation’s further deterioration, and to facilitate a speedy resumption of the peace process and conclusion of a final peaceful settlement.
On Jerusalem, the Assembly adopted an orally corrected text that reaffirmed the international community’s interest in protecting the city’s unique spiritual, religious and cultural character, by a recorded vote of 155 in favour to 7 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 15 abstentions. (See Annex V.)
By that text, the world body reiterated that any actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the city remained illegal, and deplored the transfer of diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions. The Assembly also stressed that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem –- which took into account the legitimate concerns of both sides –- must include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure freedom of religion and of conscience, and permanent, free and unhindered access of all to holy places.
Also eliciting significant discussion was the text on the Syrian Golan, adopted by a recorded vote of 111 in favour to 6 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States), with 60 abstentions (See Annex VI), by which the Assembly stressed the illegality of Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Syrian Golan since 1967.
In addition to resuming talks with Syria and Lebanon, and respecting commitments and undertakings reached during the previous talks, the world body also called on Israel to rescind its 14 December 1981 decision to impose laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan and, once more, demanded a complete withdrawal to the 4 June 1967 line.
Also today, the Assembly adopted three texts concerning the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Department of Public Information, all by recorded votes. (See Annexes I, II and III, respectively.)
Statements on the situation in the Middle East were made by the representatives of the Sudan, Indonesia, Cameroon and South Africa. Explanations of vote were made by the representatives of Venezuela, Canada, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Brazil (also on behalf of Argentina) and Haiti. The Observer for Palestine made a general statement. The Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 2 December, to take up the reports of its Sixth Committee (Legal).
The General Assembly met today to conclude its consideration of the situation in the Middle East. It was also expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions related to that issue, and to the question of Palestine.
AWAD ELKARIM ELRAYAH BALLAH (Sudan) said that Israel continued to defy international law, under the pretext of guaranteeing its security. However, to resolve the situation in the Middle East, that country must withdraw completely from the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan and Lebanese Shabaa farms. Welcoming the advisory opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which had considered the separation wall’s construction null and void, he stressed that the racist wall constituted a manifestation of the State terror exercised against the Palestinian people. It divided them into separate cantons without connections. The occupying Power should comply with the advisory opinion, and make compensation for the damage wrought by the wall’s construction.
Having recognized Israel, the United Nations had the responsibility to urge that State to abide by internationally legitimate resolutions, he affirmed, and to refrain from practicing State terror against the defenceless Palestinians. Israel had violated the Organization’s Charter, as well as international humanitarian law, particularly the Geneva Convention. Paying tribute to the civilized manner in which the Palestinian people had dealt with the recent transition of power, he stressed that Israel must do nothing to obstruct the electoral process. Moreover, no political or security vacuum could be left in the region. The Israeli plan to disengage from Gaza must constitute a part of the Road Map, and be accompanied by a complete withdrawal from the West Bank. Such developments should lead to a new era in which Israel would withdraw completely from all occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories, and in which a final, just and lasting peace would prevail.
ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY (Indonesia) said that Israel’s dismissal of the Assembly’s resolutions on the Middle East had been typical of its penchant to “play by its own rules” –- wielding its military might — and had contributed to a tremendous deterioration in the economic and humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. It also evinced a serious disregard for international law. The truth, she said, was that in any endeavour, progress was impossible if individual parties played by different rules. It was in the interest of peace, as well as Israel’s interest, that United Nations resolutions and decisions were equally applied.
She said that Israel could not continue with the construction of the separation barrier in Gaza and the West Bank; it could not continue military raids; it could not erect checkpoints and impose curfews; it must comply with the Geneva Convention; and it must comply with its obligations to protect all civilians. She went on to express concern about the spread of dangerous weapons in the Middle East, particularly Israel’s overwhelming nuclear capacity, and called on all parties in the region to do their utmost to ensure a nuclear-weapon-free zone there. She also called on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Turning to the wider Middle East, she stressed the absolute need for Israel to end its occupation of the Syrian Golan, as stipulated in Assembly resolution 58/23, and relevant Security Council resolutions. On Iraq, she stressed the importance of halting the violence and insecurity as a matter of priority. That was critical particularly in light of the upcoming elections, set for early next year, and the need to create appropriate conditions for the process could not be over emphasized.
MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU (Cameroon) expressed his condolences to the Palestinian people upon the loss of their leader, Yasser Arafat. He affirmed that peaceful settlement of the region’s conflict must incorporate a dual recognition, both of Israel’s right to exist within safe and internationally recognized borders and of the Palestinians’ right to establish an independent and sovereign State, side-by-side with Israel. The rights of the Palestinians had been reaffirmed during Monday’s observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Despite numerous setbacks — which had obstructed the road to peace — and despite the violence for which the region seemed to be a magnet, he said the international community must continue to reaffirm that peace remained an option in the Middle East. Peace could not be taken for granted — it must, first and foremost, be created and built in the hearts of men. If the inhabitants of Palestine –- both Israelis and Palestinians –- took the decision to be the creators, builders and crafters of peace, the situation could not be otherwise for two brotherly peoples condemned by the ethical logic of brotherhood to live together. Thus, he called upon both parties to undertake a new apprenticeship in living together in harmony; they must work together to unfurl the sails of their destiny and chart a course to peace.
XOLISA MABHONGO (South Africa) expressed his condolences to the Palestinian people for the recent passing of Yasser Arafat. Palestinians had endured many deaths as a result of Israel’s indiscriminate and excessive use of force, destruction of property, economic strangulation and growing unemployment. That was contrary to Israel’s obligation under international human rights and humanitarian law. He called on the international community to prevail over Israel to respect its obligations under international law, saying it had the duty to end such atrocities and abhorrent policies and practices against the Palestinians.
This year, the Security Council had failed for the third consecutive time to adopt resolutions on important issues related to the Palestinian territory. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility to see to it that the question of Palestine was resolved. A peaceful settlement was within reach through implementation of existing agreements. He welcomed the March 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. He underscored the importance of forming a credible, effective third-party monitoring mechanism that would include participation of the Quartet. It was incumbent upon all parties to revive the Middle East peace process and break the present deadlock. He supported the proposed two-State solution, the principle of land for peace and implementation of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397, 1515, as well as resolution ES-10/15 of the Assembly.
Action on Drafts
Having concluded its discussion on the situation in the Middle East, the Assembly took up several draft resolutions before it, which related to the work of the Palestinian Rights Committee, the Secretariat’s Division for Palestinian Rights and the Department of Public Information, as well as to the question of Palestine, Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan.
The Assembly first turned to the amended draft resolution on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/59/L.34), which would have the Assembly ask the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to support the Middle East peace process and to mobilize international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people. In addition, the Secretary-General would be asked to continue to provide the Committee with the necessary facilities for the performance of its tasks.
The draft was then adopted by a recorded vote of 104 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States), with 63 abstentions.
Next, the Assembly took action on the draft resolution on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/59/L.35), by which it would ask the Secretary-General to provide it with the necessary resources and to ensure that it continues to carry out its work programme as detailed in earlier resolutions, in consultation with the Palestinian Rights Committee. Also, the Assembly would ask the Committee and the Division, as part of the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November, to continue to organize an annual exhibit on Palestinian rights or a cultural event in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations.
The text was adopted by a recorded vote of 103 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 64 abstentions.
Subsequently, the Assembly turned to the text on the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information of the Secretariat (document A/59/L.36), by which it would ask the Department, in full coordination with the Committee, to continue its special information programme for the biennium 2004-2005, in particular to: disseminate information on all the United Nations activities relating to the question of Palestine; to continue to issue and update relevant publications; to expand its collection of audiovisual material on that question; and to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the area, including the occupied Palestinian territory and East Jerusalem.
The Department would also be asked to: organize international, regional and national seminars or encounters for journalists, aiming in particular at sensitizing public opinion to the question of Palestine; and continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian people in the field of media development, in particular to strengthen the training programme for Palestinian broadcasters and journalists initiated in 1995.
The draft was adopted by a recorded vote of 162 in favour to 7 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Vanuatu).
Next, the Assembly took action on the text related to the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/59/L.37), which would have the Assembly stress the need for Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and the realization of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights, primarily the right to self-determination and to their independent State. The Assembly would further stress the need for a speedy end to the reoccupation of Palestinian population centres and for the complete cessation of all acts of violence, including military attacks, destruction and acts of terror.
In addition, the Assembly would call on both sides, the Quartet and other interested parties to exert all efforts necessary to halting the deterioration of the situation, to reverse all measures taken on the ground since 28 September 2000, and to facilitate a speedy resumption of the peace process and conclusion of a final peaceful settlement. The Assembly would also stress the need to respect the advisory opinion of the ICJ, and to comply with the legal obligations identified therein, which would contribute greatly towards the peaceful and just settlement of the question of Palestine.
The draft was adopted by a recorded vote of 161 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States), with 10 abstentions (Cameroon, Haiti, Honduras, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Vanuatu).
Explanations of Vote
IMERIA NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN (Venezuela) said that her delegation had voted in favour of the text on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine because it believed that the right to self-determination was the inalienable right of all people. The Palestinian people were exercising the right to build their own State and for Israel to hinder that process was a violation of international law.
GLYN BERRY (Canada) said that his delegation had voted against the draft on the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People due to serious reservations about the Committee’s work and objectives. Canada would reaffirm its long-standing support of the rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and the right to an independent State. However, Canada strongly questioned the value added of the Committee in the pursuit of those ultimate goals.
Perhaps the time had come for the Assembly to reassess the work of that body and perhaps look at realigning funds to more strategic approaches. He said that Canada had similar reservations about the text on the Division for Palestinian Rights within the Secretariat and had abstained in that vote. It would continue to express its concerns and would question whether the work of the Division made a constructive contribution to the peace process. Canada had voted in favour of the important text on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine because its language had generally been fair and balanced. Nevertheless, that text should apply fair criticism on and state concrete recommendations for both parties. It could have contained specific references to the Road Map. He added that Canada would also restate its reservations regarding the non-binding status of the 9 July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The Assembly then turned to the draft resolution on Jerusalem (document A/59/L.39), which would have the world body reiterate its determination that any actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on Jerusalem are illegal and, therefore, null and void and have no validity whatsoever. It would also deplore the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem in violation of Security Council resolution 478 (1980), and call once more upon those States to abide by the relevant provisions of United Nations resolutions.
Also, the Assembly would stress that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides and should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the people of all religions and nationalities.
The draft was adopted, as orally corrected, by a recorded vote of 155 in favour to 7 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 15 abstentions.
Lastly, it turned to the text on the Syrian Golan (document A/59/L.40), which would have the Assembly stress the illegality of the construction of Israeli settlements and other activities in the occupied Syrian Golan since 1967. It would also express its grave concern over the halt in the pace process on the Syrian track, and express the hope that peace talks would resume from the point they had reached. It would call upon Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and respect the commitments and undertakings reached during the previous talks.
The Assembly would also declare that Israel has so far failed to comply with Council resolution 497 (1981) and, therefore, declare that Israel’s decision of 14 December 1981 to impose laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and has no validity whatsoever, as confirmed by Council resolution 497. It would call on Israel to rescind that decision, and once more demand that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan to the 4 June 1967 line.
The text was adopted by a recorded vote of 111 in favour to 6 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States), with 60 abstentions.
Statements in Explanation of Vote
Mr. BERRY (Canada) said that his country supported the negotiation of a peaceful solution to all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including that of the Golan Heights. Encouraging the parties not to spare any opportunity to resume negotiations, he explained that Canada had abstained on the draft on the Golan as the text pointed blame at only one party, and put the onus to resume negotiations on only one party –- Israel. However, the reality of the situation was that confidence-building measures and goodwill gestures were needed from both sides. Moreover, Canada did not support the annual tabling of this draft resolution on the basis of efficiency; the Fourth Committee approved and forwarded to the Assembly a broadly-supported text on the same subject every year.
BENGT VAN LOOSDRECHT (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union, affirmed that the European Union remained deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of the situation in the Middle East. The current spiral of violence must cease; there could be no military solution to the conflict. A just, lasting and comprehensive peace must include the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, and must be based on Security Council resolution 242 — which prohibited the acquisition of territory by force –- as well as Security Council resolutions 1397 and 1515, the Madrid terms of reference –- particularly the principle of “land for peace”, the Road Map and all existing agreements. The European Union would continue to work with all regional parties, as well as the Quartet, towards that goal.
He also wished to point out that the final peace settlement would not be completed without taking into account its Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese aspects. Negotiations on those issues must be resumed as soon as possible in order to reach agreement. The present draft, he noted, contained geographical references that could undermine that process of negotiation. For that reason, as in previous years, the European Union had abstained on the draft on the Syrian Golan. Moreover, in view of rationalizing the agenda of the Assembly, the Union would prefer to have only one draft resolution on the issue before the Assembly.
RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil), also speaking on behalf of Argentina, said those two delegations had voted in favour on the draft on the Syrian Golan as they felt its essential aspect was linked to the illicit nature of the acquisition of land by force. The Charter of the United Nations prohibited the use or threat of force against the territorial integrity of a State. That constituted an imperative norm of international law. However, with regard to operative paragraph 6 of the text, he wished to note that the two delegations did not prejudge the content of the paragraph, especially with reference to the 4 June 1967 border. Finally, he called for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria, with a view to finding a definitive solution, in conformity with the relevant Security Council resolutions, and the principle of “land for peace”.
FRISNEL AZOR (Haiti) said his delegation remained dedicated to the sacrosanct principle of self-determination. Political events were taking place in the Middle East that could re-launch the peace process. He had abstained in the votes on the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for the Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat.
In a general statement, NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer of Palestine, expressed his appreciation at the overwhelming adoption of the resolutions on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. All the texts -– as well as the outcome of today’s votes — were expressions of the international community’s deep concern for the current situation of the Palestinian people. While he regretted the negative vote of Canada on one of the texts, that action had not taken away from the generally positive reception with which the majority of the texts had been received. His delegation had sought to present clear language and principles in all the texts, which aimed to uphold international law and apply the will of the international community.