Following the Security Council’s failure to act last week regarding the security barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank, the General Assembly met this afternoon, at the request of Arab nations, to consider a resolution declaring the barrier illegal.
The League of Arab States had also decided to ask the 191-nation Assembly to approve a second measure seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on whether Israel is legally obligated as an occupying Power to dismantle the barrier. The Hague-based Court — created under the United Nations Charter in 1945 — adjudicates disputes between countries.
The Assembly resumed its tenth emergency session on illegal Israeli activities in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories to address what the Arab League called “the grave issue of Israel’s expansionist wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. After hearing from 18 speakers, the sponsors of the two texts requested more time, and a vote is expected in the Assembly tomorrow afternoon.
Last week, the United States vetoed a draft resolution that would have had the Security Council declare illegal the construction by Israel, the occupying Power, of a wall in the occupied territories departing from the Armistice Line of 1949. The text, which the United States said was one-sided, was defeated by a vote of 10 in favour, to 1 against, with 4 abstentions (Bulgaria, Cameroon, Germany and United Kingdom).
Opening the meeting today, the Observer of Palestine said Israel was committing an “immense war” against the Palestinians, as it built an expansionist wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The construction had not only involved the confiscation of Palestinian lands, but the destruction of Palestinian livelihoods, and the illegal, de facto annexation of expansive areas of occupied Palestinian land.
“This matter is thus of extreme importance”, he said. “It is about our national existence and peace in the region. It is either the wall or the ‘Road Map’ … It is impossible to have both.” He said Israel’s claim that the wall was a security measure to prevent suicide bombings was incredulous — “repetition of the same lie that had been used by Israel over the years to commit all its crimes against the Palestinian people”.
Israel’s representative responded that the need to establish a security barrier was the product of the continuing Palestinian strategy to encourage and tolerate terrorism, which had cost hundreds of innocent lives and threatened thousands more. There was no change in the ownership of the territory and compensation was provided for the use of land, crop yield and any other damage caused.
The fence had no political significance, he added, stressing that its sole purpose was as a life-saving measure to protect Israeli citizens from terrorism. Israel remained fully committed to negotiating the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and would be ready and willing to dismantle the fence or alter its route, as required in the context of a political settlement reached through bona fide negotiations.
Most speakers condemned the construction of the barrier, and called for an end to what they felt were Israel’s expansionist policies. Several wondered why the wall’s route deviated from the so-called “green line” established under the 1949 Armistice. Most maintained that the barrier would create a major obstacle to the implementation of the Quartet-backed Road Map, which calls for a series of parallel and reciprocal steps by both sides, leading to two States living side by side in peace by 2005.
The representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the “unfortunate” veto in the Council did not bode well for future progress towards a comprehensive peace. The crux of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict was not terrorism but the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. The Israeli expansionist wall was not justified as a measure to protect against terrorist attacks targeted at Israeli civilians.
Increasing tensions in the Middle East had seriously damaged the efforts for a peaceful settlement, said the representative of the Russian Federation, a member of the diplomatic Quartet, along with the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. More energetic actions by the international community were required to prevent the worst scenario. While condemning unilateral action in the occupied territories, he stressed that the immediate task was the earliest possible implementation of the Road Map, and both Palestinians and Israelis should forgo actions, which contradicted its spirit.
Also addressing the emergency session were the representatives of Syria (on behalf of the League of Arab States), Afghanistan (as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People), South Africa, Indonesia, Iran, Cuba, Senegal, Pakistan, India, China, Zimbabwe, Italy (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) and the United States.
The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) also spoke.
The Assembly will resume its tenth emergency session Tuesday, 21 October, at 3 p.m.
The General Assembly resumed its tenth emergency special session this afternoon to consider illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories, at the request of the League of Arab States.
In a letter to the Assembly President (document A/ES-10/242), the representative of Syria, on behalf of the Arab League, requested the meeting “in light of the inability of the Security Council to fulfil its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security due to the exercise of one of its permanent members of the veto, in order to address the grave issue of Israel’s expansionist wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”.
Last week, the United States vetoed a draft resolution before the Council, which would have had the 15-nation body “declare illegal the construction by Israel, the occupying Power, of a wall in the occupied territories departing from the armistice line of 1949”. The text was defeated by a vote of 10 in favour, to 1 against, with 4 abstentions (Bulgaria, Cameroon, Germany, United Kingdom). That action followed the Council’s daylong meeting, in which some 44 speakers raised the concerns regarding the security barrier.
Earlier this month, the Arab League called an emergency session of the Assembly following the Israeli Security Cabinet’s decision to remove Yasser Arafat, whom it accuses of fomenting terrorism. But the decision did not include specific orders to move against the Palestinian leader. At that time, the Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the move, by a vote of 133 in favour, to 4 against (Israel, United States, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia), with 15 abstentions.
The tenth emergency special session dates back to 1997 when Israel began construction of a new settlement south of East Jerusalem. The Security Council met twice on this issue, but failed to adopt resolutions. Using the “Uniting for Peace” formula, a special emergency session of the Assembly was convened in April and again in July and November of 1997. It also resumed in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.