General Assembly overwhelmingly affirms Palestinians’ right to sovereignty

Wide view of the General Assembly hall today during the opening of the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly. (UN/DPI/Eskinder Debebe)


The General Assembly affirmed this afternoon that the status of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, remained one of military occupation, as it adopted a revised resolution on the question of Palestine.

By a recorded vote of 140 in favour to 6 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 11 abstentions, the Assembly also affirmed that the Palestinian people had the right to self-determination and to sovereignty over their territory, and that Israel had only the duties and obligations of an occupying Power.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to consider three documents:  a revised draft resolution on the outcome of the Millennium Summit; a note by the Secretary-General concerning the financing of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); and a draft resolution on the status of the occupied Palestinian territory.

By a draft resolution on the status of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem (document A/58/L.61), the Assembly would affirm that the status of the Palestinian territory, occupied since 1967, remains one of military occupation.  It would also affirm that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and to sovereignty over this territory, and that Israel, the occupying Power, has no sovereignty over any part of that territory.

The draft is sponsored by Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.

Question of Palestine

Before turning to the next item, on the question of Palestine, the meeting was suspended for 15 minutes to allow time for negotiations.

When the Assembly resumed its consideration of the draft resolution on the question of Palestine (document A/58/L.61), NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said that the sovereignty of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem, must be the fundamental basis upon which the international community addressed all issues before it.  Those rights were constant and could not be altered or voided with the passage of time or because of changes on the ground.

He said that Assembly action today was intended to contribute to the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement based on a two-State solution.  Since the Palestinian side had long ago taken the historic decision necessary to achieve peace by accepting Israel’s existence and the two-State solution, the only reason for the continuation of conflict and bloodshed had been Israel’s rejection of that solution and its continuing occupation of, and expansionist designs on, Palestinian territory.

He said that Israel’s pursuit of illegal policies and practices had ensured the continued denial and violation of the national rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and an independent State.  The issue was the land, the military occupation of that land for nearly 37 years and the illegal expansionist designs of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and in violation of their rights.  The issue was Israel’s refusal to adhere to international law.

The situation was starkly clear, he said.  Not only had Israel taken over privately owned land, namely the 5.5 million dunums (1,000 square metres) privately owned by Palestine refugees, but it had proceeded with the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, with attempts to annex large parts of that territory.  The contents of a disturbing exchange of letters on 14 April between Prime Minister Sharon of Israel and United States President George W. Bush were an attempt to confer legitimacy on some of Israel’s illegal settlements, to negate the rights of Palestinian refugees, and to weaken international opposition to the catastrophic and unlawful expansionist wall.

He said that the Israeli proposal, as reflected in the letters, fell far short of any real withdrawal, as it was aimed at keeping control of international borders, airspace and water and maintaining the so-called right to military intervention or attacks against Gaza.  Rather than being a real and complete withdrawal from Gaza, the proposed withdrawal was an attempt to seal it off from the rest of the occupied territory and the rest of the world, and finalize its transformation into a “densely packed prison” for the more than 1.2 million Palestinians living there.  In light of all that, it seemed that the Road Map could not be implemented and that the work of the Quartet would be extremely difficult to continue.

Reiterating the need for the complete cessation of all settlement activities, as well as the complete cessation of the building of the wall, he said that must the Quartet must clearly affirm that in order to salvage the Road Map and the two-State solution.  The choice now was between the rule of international law or attempts to impose a de facto illegal situation.  It was between a real two-State solution, a real State of Palestine, or the imprisonment of the Palestinian people in walled bantustans on half of their land and trying to call that a State.  The choice was between a solution that achieved justice and a charade that could only lead to the continuation of violence.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia), introducing the draft resolution on the status of the occupied Palestinian territories (document A/58/L.61), said that, after negotiations, it had become quite clear and concise.  Having dropped issues concerning credentials and representation, it accepted the existence of two viable, sovereign and independent States in the region, namely Israel and Palestine.  Paralleling previous resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council, the text did not create new demands nor seek to predetermine issues that could only be resolved through negotiations and agreement between the parties.

Responding to Israeli claims that the text discriminated against Israel, he pointed out Israel was in violation of international law and that its flouting of previous United Nations resolutions needed to be addressed.  Because the draft concerned itself with the specific issues of military occupation, illegal settlements, unlawful annexation, the destruction of Palestinian property, and Israel’s expansionist wall, it would not set a precedent for States with common territorial disputes.

Statements

ABDULLAH ALSAIDI (Yemen), on behalf of the Arab Group, said Israeli practices were leading the region towards inevitable disaster.  Today’s meeting was urgent, given the unbridled pace of developments.  The Security Council had been unable to play its role in the occupied territories, which suffered daily from firebombing and the persecution of Palestinian children.  The Assembly could reaffirm its role as the voice of the collective conscience of the international community.

He wondered about the fate of the plan announced by the Israeli Prime Minister to withdraw from Gaza and declare that the expansionist activities and settlements would be concentrated in the occupied West Bank when the parties in power had not really welcomed it.  The wall was a new step along the path of annexation.  Israel had continued to use the Palestinian territory and was not necessarily interested in peace and security.  Its attempt to trample on international legitimacy was not the right path to security in the region.

The Road Map was the only plan with unanimous support, including Israel’s, he said.  Arab States also welcomed the efforts of the Quartet, which two days ago, had reaffirmed that the belligerent parties should refrain from any unilateral action.  The question of Palestine had put in play the credibility of the United Nations.  Today, that question represented a challenge for anyone aspiring to the rule of law and wishing to attach priority to multilateralism.  The draft resolution reflected the Assembly’s interest in the fate of the Palestinian people and affirmed its commitment to a peaceful settlement.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said that after a pregnant Israeli mother and her four young children had been brutally murdered last Sunday, the Palestinian leadership had not taken any steps to bring the perpetrators to justice or prevent such actions in the future.  In fact, members of Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade had claimed responsibility for the “heroic” attack.  The refusal of the Palestinian leaders to comply with their obligations to fight terrorism, as required by the Road Map, was killing the peace process.  It was ironic that rather than discussing such shortcomings, the Palestinians were instead encouraging the Assembly to yet again support their partisan, distorted agenda.

Today the General Assembly was being asked to adopt a text that undermined the statement made two days ago by the Quartet, a body which included the United Nations, he said.  That statement, like numerous peace agreements and Security Council resolutions before it, asserted that no party should act unilaterally to predetermine issues that could only be resolved through negotiation and agreement.  Israel remained committed to a two-State solution, even though it did not have a genuine peace partner, and would continue to work towards an improvement in the situation while seeking to protect its citizens.

He stressed that the situation, despite Palestinian assertions, was not a black-and-white one.  Israelis also had rights, and Palestinians also had responsibilities.  Compromise did not simply entail an agreement no longer to seek Israel’s destruction.  After all, one had to acknowledge the historic and indigenous ties of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland.  This was the story of two peoples, not just one.

This was a moment for more negotiations, not more resolutions, he said.  Nevertheless, the Palestinians were once again seeking to improperly involve the General Assembly on final status issues and, thus, hurt the body’s legitimacy.  Many other States with territorial disputes were affected by the present draft resolution.  Setting a dangerous precedent, the text would chip away at the credibility of the United Nations, by having it bypass agreed negotiating processes in order to advance certain sides of various conflicts.

PAUL BADJI (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that any final status arrangement must be the subject of an agreement between the two parties.  It was distressing that the inalienable rights of the Palestinians to self-determination and the exercise of sovereignty on their territory had so far been denied them.  The Israeli Government continued its occupation, its use of brutal military force, land confiscations, and the movement of Israeli nationals into settlements in Palestinian territory, as well as the construction of a separation wall.  That Government also continued to deal systematic destructive blows to the institutions and leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

The disproportionate use of force continued unabated, he said.  In addition, the movement of Palestinians on their own land had been restricted, thereby stifling social and economic activities, and threatening to delay a negotiated settlement.  Israeli occupation was illegal, which was why Senegal questioned the credentials of the Israeli delegation at the United Nations.  That representation must not include the occupied Palestinian territory and East Jerusalem.  Adoption today of the proposed draft would clarify at least the issue of legitimate representation of the Palestinian people at the United Nations.  It would also be another step towards the exercise of their inalienable rights.  Its adoption, however, should not be perceived as having a direct bearing on the ongoing peace process or final status questions.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) said the question of Palestine today was at an extremely important and delicate juncture, similar to the one in 1947.  Today, the Assembly must reiterate the right of the Palestinian people to an independent State on their territories, fully restored under Palestinian sovereignty.  That action would advance a negotiated settlement leading to a two-State solution.  The international community was being asked to reaffirm anew the inadmissibility of land acquisition or land settlement by military force, as well as the inadmissibility of building walls in the depth of that land on the pretext of security.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) expressed the hope that the adoption of the present text would put an end to Israel’s arrogance and its flouting of international law.  The Palestinian people were suffering under a brand of terrorism and destruction that was unprecedented in the history of mankind, and it was tragic that the United Nations had had to deal with the issue since its inception.  United Nations documents should not be ignored, and the international community should keep trying to stop Israel from devouring Palestinian lands.  It was also important to address the illegal transfers of Israelis to the occupied territories, which were done to change their demographic composition.

He said the expansionist wall had isolated Palestinian villages and created socio-economic despair.  According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), before last January, Israel had already demolished over 14,825 Palestinian homes.  Also, its policy of assassinations, by which tanks and missiles were used against an unarmed population that aspired to live in peace and dignity on independent soil, violated international law.  In fact, such actions could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Adoption of the resolution would reflect the international community’s rejection of Israeli annexations and commitment to the idea of Palestinians exercising sovereignty over their own land, he said.  Israeli land grabs should not be legitimized and the occupied territories, be they in Syria, Lebanon, or Palestine, could never be negotiated.  They must be returned to their rightful owners.  The current Israeli Government was against peace and its plans to remain in possession of Arab lands would fail.  After all, everyone knew that the Arab side was genuine in its pursuit of achieving peace, on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the principle of land for peace, and the Arab peace initiative adopted in Beirut.

ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said that everyone tended to forget the debt that mankind owed the Palestinian people to ensure their self-determination and to build on their territory an independent and sovereign State.  Despite the media campaigns, which distorted the reality of the Palestinian people, the illegality of acquiring territory by force and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people must not be forgotten.

He called for a cessation of aggression against the Palestinian people and other Arab people and the dismantling of settlements on the Palestinian territory.  Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan must also stop.  The building of the wall should not only cease, but that part that was already built must be demolished.  Those physical changes should not be allowed to complicate the future status, nor should it interrupt the contiguous nature of the Palestinian territory in Gaza and the West Bank.  Progress also required a stop to State terror, extrajudicial killings, property destruction, arbitrary detention and torture, the stifling of the Palestinian economy and the unbridled violence.  Cuba called for respect for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said he would vote against the draft, which was inappropriate and ill-timed.  It would detract from, rather than enhance, ongoing efforts.  The Quartet principals had met at the United Nations two days ago and issued a clear statement affirming their commitment to a common vision of two States and a viable and contiguous Palestine.  The Quartet had also called on both parties to fulfil their obligations under the Road Map, as required by Security Council resolution 1515 (2003) and previous Quartet statements, and to meet the commitments made at the Red Sea summits.  The Quartet had noted that no party should take unilateral actions that sought to predetermine issues that could only be resolved through negotiation and agreement between the parties.

He said the draft flew in the face of the Quartet’s statement.  It was a unilateral action that attempted to prejudge final status and border issues.   It was a detour and a distraction.  The international community must remain focused on progress, which would come only from a real commitment of the parties.  Neither the General Assembly nor anyone else should prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell had stated after the Quartet meeting, he said, President Bush’s exchange of letters with Prime Minster Sharon had reaffirmed that the parties had to mutually agree between them before any settlement issues were resolved.

Mr. ISA (Malaysia) then announced that a revised draft resolution would be tabled this afternoon with possible additional co-sponsors.

The meeting was suspended, to reconvene at 3:30 p.m.

Introduction of Revised Draft

When the meeting resumed, Mr. ISA (Malaysia) introduced the revised draft resolution (document A/58/L.61/Rev.1).

[The revisions to the operative portion of the draft are as follows:  previously, by the first operative paragraph, the Assembly would have affirmed that Israel had “no sovereignty over any part of this territory”.  By the new text, it would affirm that Israel only had “the duties and obligations of an occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the IV Hague Convention of 1907”.

An additional operative paragraph was included, by which the Assembly expressed its determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the region, resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent States, Israel and Palestine, based on pre-1967 borders and living side by side in peace and security.  In addition, Brunei Darussalam was added as a co-sponsor.]

Explanation before Vote

Speaking in explanation of position before the vote, the representative of Turkey said the draft was the outcome of recent initiatives and developments in the region, and was indicative of the most crucial issues at stake.  The final status negotiations were to be conducted directly between the two parties, and be designed to settle the core issues between them.  The parties should desist from any unilateral action, which could further cause a deterioration of the situation on the ground.  Today’s text, and Turkey’s support of it, should in no way be construed as a basis to prejudge the path towards final status talks, which must be mutually agreed by the parties through peaceful negotiations and based on Security Council resolutions.  Turkey also fully supported the Road Map.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the draft did not clash with the basis of international legal instruments with respect to the final settlement.  That basis had been recently reaffirmed at the recent Quartet meeting and, above all, had to do with resolutions 242, 338, 1397, and 1515.  In the latter text, at the Russian delegation’s proposal, the international community had recognized the Road Map as the key instrument towards the settlement.  The Quartet had opposed any actions running counter to that plan.  The Russian Federation anticipated that the Palestinians and Israelis would fully implement their commitments under it.

He noted that the Quartet’s representatives would soon return to the region to remind the parties of the recent meeting in New York.  The entire range of issues relating to final status — namely refugees, territorial disengagement, and East Jerusalem — must be reached by the parties, themselves.  The Russian Federation would vote in favour of the draft.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Ireland’s representative reaffirmed the Union’s commitment to the two-State solution agreed between the parties and its belief that the Road Map remained the only route to achieving such an outcome.  The Union was determined to vigorously pursue the course set out in that plan and called on both sides to fulfil their obligations in that regard.  The European Union’s established position was that it would not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.  No declared views on the possible shape of a final settlement could pre-empt negotiation of that settlement.

He said the refugee question and the manner in which the right of return might be realized was also a final status issue.  The Road Map stated that a permanent status agreement to end the conflict must include an agreed, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question.  Final status issues were a matter for negotiation and agreement between the parties themselves and must not be prejudged.  Secure and recognized borders should emerge from such talks, in accordance with Security Council resolutions.  A withdrawal from Gaza could be a significant step towards implementing the Road Map provided it was carried out under certain conditions.

An orderly situation in Gaza would permit the maintenance of security, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction, he said, urging the parties to take preparatory steps towards that goal.  The Palestinian Authority should take responsibility for law and order.  He also stressed the need to avoid a political vacuum in the interim period between now and any withdrawal.  The European Union urged an end to violence and terrorism, as well as a resumption of a ceasefire.  It had decided to support the draft text, as it was consistent with its positions.

Also speaking before the vote, the representative of Peru said that despite supporting the peace process and the Road Map, he would have to abstain, since the resolution had not been distributed in a timely manner, in all the necessary languages.  Also, it had been negotiated too quickly and in a non-transparent manner.  Thus, Peru’s reasons for abstaining related to process rather than content.

Action on Draft

The Assembly then adopted the text on the occupied Palestinian territories (document A/58/L.61/Rev.1) by a recorded vote of 140 in favour to 6 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 11 abstentions  (See Annex).

Explanation after Vote

Speaking after the vote, the representative of Ecuador said he had expressed his complete support for the resolution because it respected the legal framework supported by previous United Nations resolutions.  Recognizing the right of Israel to live within secure borders and of the Palestinian people to build their own State, the text supported self-determination but rejected illegal annexations.

The representative of Canada expressed regret that yet another resolution had been added to an already lengthy list of resolutions on the Middle East.  Although Canada recognized the Palestinian right to self-determination and the concept of two States living side by side within secure and recognized borders, final status issues could only be resolved through a negotiated settlement between the parties.  That was the idea behind the Quartet’s statement two days ago.

Also speaking after the vote, the representative of Japan said he had voted in favour, but felt that peace should be achieved through the Road Map and negotiations between the parties.

The representative of Israel said he had objected to the “futile resolution” not because he opposed a negotiated two-State solution, as envisaged in the Road Map, but because he actually supported it.  Ignoring the Quartet’s recent statement, which warned against prejudging the outcome of negotiations, the text blatantly misrepresented reality.  Once again a message had been sent to the Palestinian side that their failures were acceptable.

Warning that support for unabashed one-sided initiatives would harm the General Assembly’s legitimacy, he reminded delegates that the Assembly had already undermined its credibility with a past resolution that equated Zionism with racism.  If the present body was truly engaging in unbiased legal examinations, as it claimed to be doing, it would have expressed concern for the human rights of not just Palestinians, but Israelis as well.  Mr. Arafat had in the past rejected the two-State solution in favour of terrorism.

The representative of Uruguay said he had voted in favour of the text because it simply reiterated the principles and conclusions already adopted by the Assembly and other United Nations bodies.  It did not in any way prejudge the results of the peace process.  By adopting the text, the Assembly was encouraging the parties to assume their responsibilities and embark on the peace process.

The representative of Guatemala said he had abstained because, despite its constructive amendments, the text embarked on subjects which, pursuant to Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, were to be resolved through negotiations between the parties as final status issues.  Nonetheless, he reiterated Guatemala’s commitment to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and resolutely shared the vision of the two-State solution.

In his closing remarks, Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said today’s decision was extremely important, as it had reaffirmed basic core questions, including the status of the occupied Palestinian territory and East Jerusalem as a territory under military occupation.  It had also reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the exercise of sovereignty on their territory.  The resolution also affirmed that Israel, the occupying Power, could not but comply with its duties and obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Fourth Hague Convention.  None of that was negotiable.  Moreover, the overwhelming support for the text was an expression of the broad support of the international community.

Vote on Question of Palestine

The status of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem (document A/58//L.61) was adopted by a recorded vote of 140 in favour to 6 against, with 11 abstentions, as follows:

In favour:  Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia.

Against:  Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States.

Abstain:  Australia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Serbia and Montenegro, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu.

Absent:  Albania, Angola, Bahamas, Bhutan, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Swaziland, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Zimbabwe.

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