As the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was observed at Headquarters today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegations that, while a solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict had proved elusive, with Palestinians yet to see the beginnings of their own State and Israelis yet to feel secure in theirs, the agreement two weeks ago on the Rafah crossing had created a new opportunity to cooperate and bring tangible benefits for ordinary people — particularly among Palestinians.
Addressing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Mr. Annan urged the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to work with each other and the Quartet to ensure the agreement was implemented in full and on time. He added that Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians’ success in ensuring calm during that period had raised hopes for a renewal of the political process. Unfortunately, the ensuing upsurge in violence had seriously undermined that fledgling coordination, bringing back feelings of frustration and disappointment.
If disengagement was to be a springboard to progress on broader issues, it was vital that the parties give new impetus to meeting their obligations under the Road Map, which they had accepted and which had been endorsed by the Security Council, he stressed. Palestinians needed to be assured that the future viability of a Palestinian State would not be eroded by settlement expansion and barrier construction, and Israelis needed to be assured that their security would not be compromised by failure to act decisively against terror.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson ( Sweden) said the last 30-year period had been a troubling and difficult one for the region. Political progress had been slow or absent. Images and realities of violence and human suffering had dominated the Palestinian-Israeli relations. Lack of trust had permeated the relationship. Against that sombre background, it was gratifying to note progress made this year. The Palestinian people had demonstrated their commitment to democracy during the presidential election in January. The international community had welcomed the Israeli withdrawal and dismantlement of settlements in the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank in late summer.
Welcoming the agreement on movement for the Rafah crossing, the Security Council President for December, Andrey I. Denisov ( Russian Federation) called on the parties to take immediate action to implement them. The Security Council also fully supported the holding of free, fair and transparent Palestinian legislative elections next January. Members were also united in the view that the international community must take concrete steps to ensure that extremists did not undo the positive changes in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Those changes must make it possible to resume the implementation of the Road Map and to come closer to achieving the final goal — peace and security for both Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
Delivering a message from Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, Riyad Mansour said that, despite the unilateral nature of the Gaza withdrawal and serious concern that it had been carried out in the framework of deepening colonization in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority would strive to transform the withdrawal into an opportunity to return to the negotiating table. The opening of the Rafah crossing had linked the Gaza Strip with the Arab world. It was also a step forward towards the realization of the independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian State.
Committee Chairman, Paul Badji ( Senegal), read out the names of the many Heads of State and Government, ministers and other officials who had sent messages of support and solidarity.
Statements in commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People were also made by: Mohd Radzi Abdul Rahman (Malaysia), in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; Hamidon Ali (Malaysia), on behalf of Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia’s Prime Minister in his capacity as Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement; Abdullah M. Alsaidi (Yemen), on behalf of Abu Bakr Al Qirabi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Yemen and Chairman of the Thirty-second Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers; Aminu Bashir Wali (Nigeria), on behalf of Nigeria’s President in his capacity as Chairman of the African Union; Yahya A. Mahmassani, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, on behalf of the League’s Secretary-General, Amre Moussa.
Additional speakers included: Chris Doyle, member of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine and Director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding; and Nasser Al-Kidwa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority.
The Committee will meet at a date and time to be announced.
PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, noted that three weeks ago the Committee had marked the thirtieth anniversary of its establishment by the General Assembly. It had not been a cause of celebration, but rather an opportunity to reflect upon decades of failed efforts to resolve the question of Palestine. Today’s observance provided a chance to pledge unwavering commitment to bring about a just solution to the question of Palestine. The Day was also a reminder that there would be no final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the achievement by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property.
He said the occupation of Palestinian land and the occupying Power’s refusal to relinquish control over the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, complicated efforts to arrive at a just solution to the conflict. This year had seen encouraging developments, a renewed rapprochement of the two parties to the conflict, contrasted by the continuation of illegal policies by the occupying Power, and an upsurge in violence triggered by the never-ending cycle of attacks and retaliation. The passing of Yassir Arafat, over a year ago, had represented a real challenge for the Palestinian people and institutions. It had led, however, to a peaceful, democratic transition, and, in free and fair elections, Mahmoud Abbas had been voted into the office of President of the Palestinian Authority.
Last September, the Committee had welcomed Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four small settlements in the northern West Bank as a rare opportunity to revive negotiations within the framework of the Road Map and restart the stalled political process, he continued. Israel, however, remained in control of the borders of the Gaza Strip, thus hampering any meaningful economic development. At the same time, the situation in the West Bank remained a cause for concern. The creation of new facts on the ground was accompanied by alarming reports of plans for intensified construction in West Bank settlements, in contravention of Israel’s obligations under the Road Map and in violation of international law and the advisory opinion of the Internal Court of Justice.
The Committee had been encouraged by the international community’s intensified efforts at revitalizing the Road Map, he added. International donors had pledged substantial financial resources towards the recovery of Gaza in the aftermath of the pull-out, and the European Union stood ready to provide for a third-party presence at the Rafah Terminal between Gaza and Egypt. For its part, the United Nations should maintain its permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved in all its aspects. Ultimately, it was the implementation of United Nations resolutions that would lead to a permanent two-State solution. The Committee, as the only intergovernmental body in the United Nations devoted exclusively to political aspects of the question of Palestine, would do its utmost to help the Palestinian people achieve their inalienable rights and realize their national aspirations in a State of their own.
Concluding, he called on Member States and intergovernmental and civil society organizations to redouble their efforts in support of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the question of Palestine.
JAN ELIASSON ( Sweden), General Assembly President, said the world continued to observe the Day in order to support the Middle East peace process and mobilize international assistance to the Palestinian people. The last 30-year period had been a troubling and difficult one for the region. Political progress had been slow or absent. Images and realities of violence and human suffering had dominated the Palestinian-Israeli relations. Lack of trust had permeated the relationship. Against that sombre background, it was gratifying to note progress made this year. The Palestinian people had demonstrated their commitment to democracy during the presidential election in January. The international community had welcomed the Israeli withdrawal and dismantlement of settlements in the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank in late summer.
He noted that, last week, on 25 November, following an agreement by both sides on movement and access, the President of the Palestinian Authority formally re-opened the Gaza Strip’s border crossing with Egypt, giving the Palestinians control over one of their frontiers for the first time in their history. An important step was thus taken to fulfil the vision of a future Palestinian State. All those who made that possible, through painstaking and complicated negotiations with persistence and tenacity, were to be commended. The parties were encouraged to continue their cooperation on outstanding issues related to disengagement, supported by the international community.
Palestinians and Israelis must now build on those achievements and strengthen the momentum towards the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he stressed. The Road Map, supported by the Quartet, provided a solid basis for the continued work for peace. The international community must intensify its engagement in helping the parties to end a conflict, which for far too long, had tormented the region and its peoples. It was crucial that the Palestinians and Israelis now cooperated to the fullest extent possible. Actions which could aggravate the situation and increase suspicions and mistrust must not be undertaken. Violence and acts of terror must cease. Hope and a sense of positive direction must be restored to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
Meanwhile, he said, everything must be done to alleviate the daily plight of the Palestinian people. Access and mobility were crucial for dealing with unemployment and poverty. International assistance should focus on capacity-building programmes, as part of a development strategy for a future Palestinian State. Hopefully, the full backing of the United Nations and the world community would reactivate the peace process and put an end to decades of Palestinian-Israeli confrontation and conflict. Both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples had had enough of despair and loss of life. They deserved a future of peace, security and good-neighbourly relations, and efforts should intensify towards making that happen.