UN Committee on Palestine considers concrete action by international community

Somaia S. Barghouti, First Counsellor of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)


Incessant human rights violations by the occupying forces; Israel’s continued illegal policies aimed at changing the legal status, demographic composition and character of occupied East Jerusalem; the dire socio-economic situation in Palestine; and the need to put an end to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land were highlighted as critical issues that required concrete action by the international community, as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning.

In her statement on the latest developments in the Middle East and the situation in the Occupied PalestinianTerritory, the Chargée d’Affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, Somaia S. Barghouti, said that the situation remained very critical, for improvements on the ground had only been minor. The Palestinian Authority had taken steps to calm the situation in line with its firm commitment to the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings. Unfortunately, those measures had taken place against the backdrop of incessant human rights violations by the occupying forces, including the killing of 30 civilians since the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings and the injuring of at least 241 others.

The occupying Power’s other illegal policies included continued settlement activities and the construction of the expansionist wall in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory, she said. Just two months ago, the Israeli Government had confirmed its approval of plans to build 3,500 more housing units in the “Maale Adumim” settlement, the largest Israeli settlement located east of Jerusalem in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory. The move was intended to connect the said settlement with Western Jerusalem in an attempt to encircle occupied East Jerusalem with illegal settlements and create facts on the ground that would sever the occupied city from its natural Palestinian surroundings.

She stressed that the Palestinian Authority was committed to the Road Map’s implementation as a means of reviving the peace process and resuming final status negotiations. It would engage in any endeavour that would bring closer the goal of ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a PalestinianState with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinian leadership would continue to seek international support to pressure Israel, the occupying Power, to end its colonization of Palestinian land through various international institutions, including the Security Council. It would also continue to seek full implementation of international decisions on the construction of the separation wall.

Also this morning, the Committee’s Chairman, Paul Badji, reported on the outcome of the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which was held on 8 and 9 March in Geneva on the theme “Implementing the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — The Role of Governments, Intergovernmental Organizations and Civil Society”.

The meeting had generated great interest, with representatives of 77 Governments, Palestine, 6 intergovernmental organizations, 11 United Nations system entities, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and 48 civil society organizations participating. The meeting was followed by consultations with civil society organizations and a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Among other activities since the Committee’s last meeting on 7 February, Mr. Badji also mentioned his letter to the Secretary-General (document A/ES-10/301/S/2005/262), in which he had expressed the Committee’s deep concern at Israel’s recent activities aimed at expanding its settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Committee reiterated that the continued creation of “facts on the ground” by Israel contradicted the Road Map, which obligated Israel to dismantle settlement outposts and freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of settlements.

On 6 May, during the Chairman’s meeting with representatives of civil society organizations active at the United Nations and in the Greater New York area, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had briefed him on their recent initiatives. Also discussed that day were preparations for the forthcoming conference of civil society on the question of Palestine, to be organized under the auspices of the Committee. It was agreed that the conference would be held in early summer in Europe, in order to reach out to civil society organizations in Europe and the Middle East. He also reported on the Peace in Palestine NGO Conference, which had been held in Kuala Lumpur on 28-30 March.

Also this morning, the Committee approved applications from 8 NGOs that had asked to be accredited to the Committee, including Association des Juristes Maliennes (Mali); Friends of Al-Aqsa (United Kingdom); International Forum for Justice and Peace (Netherlands); Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (Ireland); Palestinian American Culture and Friendship Association (Gaza); The Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (West Bank); Jerusalem Center for Educational Enrichment (East Jerusalem); and Palestinians for Peace and Democracy (United States).

Short statements were made by representatives of Syria, Guinea and Malaysia.

The Committee will hold its next meeting at a date to be announced.

SOMAIA S. BARGHOUTI, Chargée d’Affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, said the situation remained very critical, for improvements on the ground had only been minor. The Palestinian people continued to feel anger and frustration at the harsh conditions they faced on a daily basis. The Palestinian Authority had taken steps to calm the situation on the ground in line with its firm commitment to the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings. Unfortunately, those measures had been taken place against the backdrop of incessant human rights violations by the occupying forces, including the killing of 30 civilians since the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings and the injuring of at least 241 others. The Occupying Power’s illegal policies also included the colonization of Palestinian land for the purposes of building illegal Israeli settlements and the construction of the expansionist wall in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory.

Local and municipal elections had been completed last Friday. The success of elections, along with the previous presidential and municipal elections, as well as the upcoming legislative council elections would contribute to the strengthening of national institutions and the rule of law.

Highlighting some of the most critical issues, she said Israel continued to intensify its illegal policies aimed at changing the legal status, demographic composition and character of occupied East Jerusalem. Just two months ago, the Israeli Government had confirmed its approval of plans to build 3,500 more housing units in the “Maale Adumim” settlement, the largest illegal Israeli settlement located east of Jerusalem in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory. The move was intended to connect the said settlement with Western Jerusalem in an attempt to encircle occupied East Jerusalem with illegal settlements and create “facts on the ground” that would sever the occupied city from its natural Palestinian surroundings. Those illegal actions were in flagrant violation of international law.

Also concerning East Jerusalem, Israeli extremists had attempted to carry out attack on Al-Haram Al-Sharif, she continued. In response, the Israeli occupying forces had chosen to punish the Palestinian population for the illegal actions by the Israeli extremists and had closed off all entrances to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Ministerial Council had condemned the ongoing attempt by the Israeli extremists to attack Masjid Al-Aqsa and the aggressive response by the Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian civilian population. The Palestinian leadership viewed those actions as a grave threat to prospects of peace in the region and held Israel responsible for any harm to Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

On the issue of illegal Israeli settlements and the expansionist wall, which were in flagrant violation of international law and in total contempt of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion, she said those illegal policies were also in clear violation of the Road Map. Nothing less than a complete cessation must be brought to Israel’s continued colonial settlement activity, including its construction of its expansionist wall. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the United States position regarding the issue of settlement expansion and need for Israel to honour its commitment and halt the expansion of settlements. She hoped the position would be translated into real action. The Palestinian leadership would continue to seek international support to pressure Israel, the occupying Power, to end its colonization of Palestinian land, through various international institutions, including the Security Council.

Regarding the wall, she said the Palestinian leadership would continue to seek the full implementation of General Assembly resolution A/RES/ES-10/15 of 20 July 2004, which called on Israel to comply with its legal obligations. The Palestinian Authority had urged the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to submit to Switzerland a formal written request on the matter.

The Sharm el-Sheikh understandings constituted a step forward towards the Road Map’s implementation, she said, stressing the firm commitment of the Palestinian Authority to the implementation of the understandings. She regretted, however, that little progress had been made by Israel regarding its obligations, including the withdrawal from Palestinian cities, a halt to violence and destruction and the release of Palestinian prisoners. For the understandings to progress, it was important to bear in the mind the appropriate political context that should be the achievement of the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces to pre-September 2000 positions. Moreover, the full release of prisoners must occur, and deportees must be allowed to return to their original place of residence.

On the issue of the intended Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, it was evident that Israel continued to defer its withdrawal based on false and baseless assertions. The withdrawal must be viewed as the first step of implementing Israel’s Road Map obligations. When completed, the withdrawal must not result in a change of the legal status of that area based on the principle of territorial integrity and unity of the whole occupied PalestinianTerritory. The Palestinian Authority had made clear that the option of a State with temporary borders was unacceptable.

Serious negotiations and security coordination should begin with Israel providing the Palestinian Authority with necessary information concerning the withdrawal and the arrangements afterwards, she said. The withdrawal from Gaza should be full, including the Salah El-Din border area near Egypt, and must be followed by the withdrawal from the West Bank. A safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank must be established, and the elimination of all obstacles on the movement of goods and persons must be guaranteed. A clear plan on the opening of a functioning air- and seaport, as well as the opening of all commercial borders, must be secured in order for Gaza not to turn into a walled prison following the intended withdrawal. On the Rafah crossing, which was Gaza’s only access point to the world, the Palestinian Authority requested that it be handed over to Palestinian control once the withdrawal was complete. The land should be returned in its original state before the Israeli occupation.

On another note, she said the socio-economic state of the Palestinian people continued to deteriorate at alarming levels. She expressed appreciation to the international community for its serious pledges of assistance pledged in London. Any development assistance must, however, be incorporated into a plan for the entire OccupiedPalestinianTerritory, including East Jerusalem. While special concentration would have to be placed on Gaza and parts of the West Bank, it must not stop there. All of that should be established on the principle that the withdrawal from Gaza would not result in change in the legal status of that area and should be based on the territorial integrity and unity of the whole OccupiedPalestinianTerritory.

The Palestinian Authority was committed to the Road Map’s implementation as a means of reviving the peace process and resuming final status negotiations. She welcomed the convening of a conference in the second half of the year, noting that the Palestinian Authority would engage in any endeavour that would bring closer to the goal of ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a PalestinianState with East Jerusalem as its capital.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that Ms. Barghouti’s report showed how much suffering the Palestinian people were still facing as a result of Israel’s ongoing occupation. Those following the situation in Palestinian territories could understand how many problems and contradictions the international community was still facing there. It was true that Israel was going to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but on the other hand, it was no great secret that Israel had never had any aspirations there. One former Prime Minister of that country had said that he wanted to wake up one morning to find Gaza sunk into the sea. Israel’s plans to withdraw from Gaza were really covering a plan to continue colonization of the OccupiedTerritories by expanding settlements in the West Bank and removing people from Gaza to other places in the West Bank. Continued colonization could create an explosive situation in the Middle East.

Also, Israel was not heeding the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the construction of the separation wall. More settlements were being built and expanded in the West Bank. That meant the United Nations had to shoulder its responsibility and face the challenges posed by the aggressive policies of the Israeli Government, working harder for the implementation of all relevant resolutions. He agreed with the Observer for Palestine that the Committee needed to redouble its efforts in that regard.

ALPHA IBRAHIMA SOW (Guinea) reiterated his country’s commitment to the development of the Palestinian cause and supported the Committee’s activities. “We should not let up in our efforts — on the contrary, we have to consolidate them”, he said.

Committee Chairman PAUL BADJI (Senegal) reported on the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which had been held at the United Nations Office at Geneva from 8 to 9 March and had been followed, on 10 March, by consultations with civil society organizations. The theme of the meeting was “Implementing the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory — The role of Governments, Intergovernmental Organizations and Civil Society”. The meeting had focused on the ICJ’s advisory opinion, the responsibility of Governments and intergovernmental organizations, as well as the role of civil society and parliaments in advocating adherence to international law. The meeting consisted of an opening session, three plenary meetings and a closing session. It had generated great interest, with representatives of 77 Governments, Palestine, 6 intergovernmental organizations, 11 United Nations system entities, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and 48 civil society organizations participating.

Taking place against the backdrop of a series of promising developments, including the election of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on 9 January and the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit on 8 February, the meeting’s final document welcomed the London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority, hosted by the British Government on 1 March, and noted that the meeting had encouraged steps outlined by the Palestinian Authority. While welcoming Israel’s intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank as an initial step to the Road Map’s implementation, participants underscored the importance of coordinating the process closely with the Palestinian Authority and implementing it in the framework of the Road Map. The participants, among other things, had demanded that Israel comply with its legal obligations to cease the construction of the wall, stressed the importance of steps taken by the Secretary-General to establish a register of damage and called on the international community to adopt measures that would persuade Israel’s Government to comply with international law and the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion.

Reporting on the Peace in Palestine Conference, which had been held in Kuala Lumpur on 28-30 March, he added that it had been organized by Peace Malaysia, a coalition of some 11,000 Malaysia civil society actors comprising non-governmental organizations (NGOs), welfare associations, alumni networks, and religious and political organizations. The NGO Conference had brought together civil society groups from all over the world, particularly from developing countries, seeking to establish a network, which would intensify the international campaign for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and an independent PalestinianState. That initiative was in line with the Committee’s efforts to mobilize civil society groups to promote the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Over 400 participants from civil society organizations from some 35 countries had participated in the meeting, Mr. Badji said. The event had been opened by the Prime Minister of Malaysia. On behalf of the Committee, he had made a statement at the conference’s first panel session entitled “The significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to contemporary global politics”. Participating in the conference, Somaia S. Barghouti had served as Chairperson of one of the workshops.

Twenty workshops on topics related to the question of Palestine had submitted recommendations on such issues as the role of the United Nations in furthering the peace process, the role of other intergovernmental organizations and the media, and possible contributions of the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace process. Among the aims of the Action Plan presented at the close of the Conference was the establishment of an International Centre on Palestine for Civil Society in the South, to be located in Malaysia. The objectives of the Centre included coordinating activities of existing Palestinian support groups and networks in the South, initiating the creation of new groups and networks in developing countries and forging close ties with Palestinian support groups in North America and Europe. It also aimed to develop an effective relationship with the Committee, the Division for Palestinian Rights and the International Coordinating Network on Palestine.

Ms. BARGHOUTI expressed her appreciation to the organizers and participants of the Conference, saying that its outcome had been very impressive. The importance of the event had been underlined by the highest attention it had received from the Malaysian Government. Support should be provided to the NGO activities and the International Centre on Palestine for Civil Society in the South, to be established in Malaysia.

MOHD. RADZI ABDUL RAHMAN (Malaysia) thanked the Chairman for the kind words extended to his Government as organizer of the conference. He was pleased that the Chairman had represented the Committee at the conference. The conference was the brainchild of Malaysia’s Prime Minister and had been motivated by the feeling that the peace process was stagnated and that international fatigue had set in. It had also been organized in response to the compelling need to search for peace by turning to civil society. Malaysia was pleased that the conference had been successful in many ways, and he hoped the International Centre on Palestine would play a role in contributing to other existing initiatives to promote peace.

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