CARACAS — United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the opening session of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Caracas this morning that Palestinians needed to know that the future viability of a Palestinian State would not be eroded by settlement activity and barrier construction; Israelis needed to be assured that their security would not be compromised by failure to act decisively against terror.
In a statement read out on his behalf by David McLachlan-Karr, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Venezuela, he reiterated the Quartet’s call for renewed action in parallel by both parties to meet their obligations under the Road Map. He called on Israel to abide by its legal obligations as set forth by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and in General Assembly resolution ES-10/15.
Vice-Minister for External Relations of Venezuela Alcides Rondón said that today, there was a change in the international context, in which the least favoured countries and countries without a voice were beginning to exercise their inalienable rights and to assume a common position in favour of multipolarity and equality among the nations of the world.
Venezuela, he said, reiterated its position on the question of Palestine with respect for the rights of both parties based on the resolutions of the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the conflict without violence, tension and political instability in the region.
Chairman of the Committee Paul Badji said there would be no final solution to the long-standing conflict without the achievement by the Palestinian people of the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to independence and sovereignty and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property.
He urgently appealed to the world community to help the parties extricate themselves from the quagmire of violence and distrust by restoring normality and returning to a meaningful political dialogue. He was confident that the meeting would contribute to the advancement of the peace process and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, including the right to the establishment of an independent State of Palestine.
Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour told the meeting that if the international community did not stop Israel from creating facts on the ground, the West Bank would be dissected, making a two-State solution very difficult to attain.
He went on to say that Israel’s unilateral decision to dismantle settlements in Gaza had left many unresolved issues such as the removal of rubble, including hazardous material. Recently, Israel had suspended talks on implementing its obligations.
Statements were also made by the representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic, Cuba, Senegal, Indonesia and Guyana.
The theme of the two-day meeting in Caracas is “Achieving the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people — the key to peace in the Middle East”.
The meeting, convened under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will be divided into three plenaries. Plenary I, to be held this afternoon, will take up the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. It will cover Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, focusing on the situation on the ground and its implications. Plenary I is also scheduled to address the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges facing the Palestinian people, as well as the urgency of strengthening Palestinian Authority institutions.
Plenary II, which will meet tomorrow morning, will examine international efforts at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine. Panel experts will discuss supporting the efforts of the European Union, United States, Russian Federation and the United Nations, known collectively as the Quartet, as well as the efforts of other actors. The panellists will also examine maintaining international legitimacy in efforts aimed at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations.
The theme of Plenary III is “Support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for the realization by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights”. Specific issues to be explored are promoting support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people through the United Nations system and action by Latin American and Caribbean States within the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Caribbean Community and other intergovernmental mechanisms.
Invited to the meeting are eminent personalities, including high-level officials from the Host Government and the Palestinian Authority, internationally renowned experts, including Israelis and Palestinians, representatives of United Nations Member States and United Nations observers. Also invited are parliamentarians, representatives of the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations, the academic community, non-governmental organizations and the media.
On Thursday, the Committee will sponsor the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace. A round table of experts from the Latin American and Caribbean meeting will discuss public perceptions of the Israeli Palestinian conflict; the role of the media; the impact and educational responsibility of think tanks and academic institutions; and role of civil society in raising public awareness about the question of Palestine.
ALCIDES RONDÓN, Vice-Minister of External Relations for Venezuela, said his Government’s offer to be the venue for today’s meeting was based on its interest in strengthening conditions to promote a permanent solution to the Palestinian situation. It supported the right of all people to develop without foreign interference, to freely determine their political choices, economic, social and cultural development and to maintain their territorial integrity. Venezuela had traditionally maintained a position of non-interference with other nations. It had co-sponsored resolutions on supporting Palestinian rights and had joined the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People as an observer.
He said that today, there was a change in the international context, in which the least favoured countries and countries without a voice were beginning to exercise their inalienable rights and to assume a common position in favour of multipolarity and equality among the nations of the world. Venezuela reiterated its position on the question of Palestine with respect for the rights of both parties based on the resolutions of the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the conflict without violence, tension and political instability in the region. He called for the continuation of peaceful negotiations and the implementation of agreements already reached. He called on the participants to support a civic conscience for a better future through the building of new values in keeping with social justice and the sharing of well being for all people.
Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said ordinary Israelis and Palestinians yearned to live in peace, prosperity and harmony with each other and with their neighbours in the region. Yet a solution to their conflict remained elusive and the price of that failure had been unconscionably high: continuing suffering and death. Recent developments, however, gave cause for optimism.
In a statement read out on his behalf by DAVID MCLACHLAN-KARR, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Venezuela, he said Israel had completed its disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, and had reached agreement with the Palestinian Authority on the Rafah crossing. Those developments, coupled with an end to the closure regime in the West Bank, could bring appreciable change to the daily suffering of ordinary Palestinians. If those events were to stimulate progress on broader issues, it was vital that the parties redouble their efforts to implement the Quartet’s Road Map, a plan accepted by the both parties, endorsed by the Security Council and supported by the international community.
He went on to say that upcoming Palestinian and Israeli elections would have important repercussions on the peace process. Those votes should not prevent the parties from accelerating existing efforts to build mutual trust and from acting on their Road Map obligations. Palestinians needed to know that the future viability of a Palestinian State would not be eroded by settlement activity and barrier construction. And Israelis needed to be assured that their security would not be compromised by failure to act decisively against terror. He reiterated the Quartet’s call for renewed action in parallel by both parties to meet their obligations under the Road Map. He called on Israel to abide by its legal obligations as set forth by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and in General Assembly resolution ES-10/15.
Chairman of the Committee PAUL BADJI welcomed Venezuela as a new observer of the Committee and expressed the Committee’s gratitude to the Government for hosting today’s meeting. In its support of the Palestinian people, Venezuela was joined by the majority of countries in South America. He recalled that the Brasilia Declaration, adopted last May at the South American and Arab Countries Summit, reaffirmed the need to reach a just, durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
He said the United Nations had the permanent responsibility for all aspects of the question of Palestine until it is resolved in accordance with international legitimacy and until the rights of the Palestinian people were realized. Reviewing the history of the Committee which observed the thirtieth anniversary of its establishment this year, he said the Committee had refined and expanded its mandate over the years. The Palestinian people, nevertheless, had yet to attain their inalienable rights. There would be no final solution to the long-standing conflict without the achievement by the Palestinian people of the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to independence and sovereignty and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property.
Citing recent encouraging developments, he called attention to Palestinian municipal elections and their determination to have parliamentary elections in January. For Palestinian economic recovery and reform to succeed, however, the sustained assistance of international donors was indispensable. The Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip and the Agreement on Movement and Access were significant steps, but Palestinians still faced facts on the ground that consolidated the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The United Nations system was determined to help improve the situation for Palestinians and to support efforts to reach a political solution. The Secretary-General’s office maintained contact with the parties, the other members of the Quartet and donors to promote political and security dialogue and to foster cooperation on economic and humanitarian issues. For its part, the Committee continued to actively carry out its programme of work in support of the Palestinian people. He urgently appealed to the world community to help the parties extricate themselves from the quagmire of violence and distrust.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said President Abbas had wanted the Head of Negotiations for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Saeb Erakat, to represent him today. Unfortunately, Israel had decided to freeze the organization of bus convoys connecting the West Bank with Gaza, and it was important for Mr. Erakat to stay in the region to ensure that component of the Agreement on Movement and Access was implemented. This meeting and others like it were crucial to bring pressure on the parties to the conflict, particularly the Israelis, who refused to implement United Nations resolutions. Palestinians were not interested in the conferences per se but in finding, as quickly as possible, a just solution to the Palestinian situation. Israel’s unilateral decision to dismantle settlements in Gaza had left many unresolved issues such as the removal of rubble, including hazardous material. Recently, Israel had suspended talks on implementing its obligations. Other unresolved issues involved the status of the seaport and the airport.
He said that, while the Agreement had been considered a first step to be followed by others to implement the Sharm el-Sheik agreement, Palestinians were unable to move to the second step because of all the unresolved issues in Gaza. He noted that donors would be reluctant to help as long as the situation remained unresolved. Palestinians were trying hard to meet all of their obligations under the Road Map. The settlements and the construction of the Wall were the most important obstacles. If the international community did not stop Israel from creating facts on the ground, the West Bank would be dissected, making a two-State solution very difficult to attain. This and other meetings must apply pressure on Israel not to create facts on the ground. Continuation of the construction of the Wall and the expansion of settlements would not create a Palestinian State but rather cantons such as those that existed in apartheid South Africa.
The Palestinians would hold more municipal elections on 15 December and parliamentary elections on 25 January, he said. Israel, however, was meddling in the elections. Moreover, Israel would not meet with Palestinians on the organization of elections in East Jerusalem. Palestinians should be allowed to have free and democratic elections without interference and without anyone telling them who should be representing them. Such interference should be condemned by all. He was confident that the representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization would win the majority of the seats in the coming elections although Israel’s irresponsible actions were helping the extremists. Regarding Israeli elections, he said that Palestinians had opted for negotiations and peace. They hoped that the Israeli Government would have a mandate similar to that of the Palestinians so that there could be a solution.
The representative of the Syrian Arab Republicsaid his Government continued to support the implementation of United Nations resolutions and the international legal system for achieving peace and security. His country had always demanded a definitive, just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Middle East questions. Israel constantly violated international law. Its acts of defiance showed disregard for the United Nations principle that prohibited the acquisition of territory by force and deviated from the peace process started in Madrid in 1991. Israel had no interest in achieving peace. It continued to build illegal settlements and the construction of a divisive wall to further encroach on Palestinian territory. He called on the United Nations to assume its responsibility in the application of its resolutions regarding the Palestinian question and the occupied Arab territories, with the same strictness with which other resolutions were executed. He called on the international community to continue their maximum effort to find a lasting, comprehensive and just solution to the Middle East question by pressing Israel to respect the legality of international resolutions and agreements.
The representative of Cuba said his Government supported the Palestinian right to self-determination. The key to peace in the Middle East was respect for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The State of Israel had been created but the establishment of the State of Palestine remained unimplemented. Resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978) called for withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories. The establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital remained an essential objective. The so-called Gaza withdrawal plan should not be an obstacle to resolving other outstanding issues such as the return of refugees, the construction of the Wall and the retention by Israel of control of Gaza through its continued control of air- and sea-space. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean must continue to denounce the crimes committed against the Arab people, particularly the Palestinians. Peace in the Middle East was impossible without a solution to the question of Palestine.
The representative of Senegal urged the occupying Power, Israel, to keep the trend of recent events that supported the political process and the implementation of the Road Map by initiating similar measures in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. All parties should be encouraged to pursue negotiations to increase confidence and prevent the occurrence of violence and the death of innocent victims. He encouraged parties to be steadfast in fulfilling their responsibilities so as to maintain a ceasefire which was helpful to the establishment of an atmosphere of dialogue. It was incumbent on the members of the Quartet to urge the parties to fulfil their obligations and to promote peace, security and regional reconciliation and the creation of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine.
The representative of Indonesia said the humanitarian situation and the economic life of the Palestinians had continued to deteriorate. The Palestinian National Information Centre estimated that the economic losses suffered by the Palestinians since the beginning of the intifada had reached $15.6 billion. That was a result of Israeli blockades, collective punishment, shelling, as well as the destruction of infrastructure and both private and public property. Israeli policies, such as the continuation of the Wall and the expansion of settlements raised serious doubts as to its intention towards peace. He looked forward to the Secretary-General’s undertaking to complete the framework for the establishment of a register of damage relating to the construction of the barrier in the West Bank. He stressed that the leaders of 106 nations from Asia and Africa had in April, in Bandung, Indonesia, pledged their support to the Palestinian people and to the creation of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State.
The representative of Guyana said that the countries of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had always supported the cause of the Palestinian people and had consistently called for the establishment of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders. The Palestinian plight continued to cause his Government great concern. He encouraged the international community to take steps to restore the political process and to encourage both sides to reach a fair agreement based on diplomacy, respect, cooperation and respect for international law. He supported the rights of the Palestinians to return to their homeland and to peacefully exist as an independent State. The United Nations Secretary-General had cautioned against the political dangers of confusing the term terrorism with the struggle of the Palestinian people to win their rights. Palestinian Authority leaders had condemned suicide bombers both on humanitarian grounds and the disservice they did to the Palestinian cause. The Palestinians also suffered from terrorism, but the international community did not apply the same attention to those events. The role of the United Nations system was important in addressing the needs of the Palestinian people.