Press Releases

    13 February 2002


    NEW YORK, 12 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of the 2002 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People:

    Allow me first to congratulate you on your unanimous re-election to the leadership of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The renewal of your mandate reflects the Committee’s appreciation of your dedication and that of your country, Senegal, to the quest for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East and for the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights.

    I would like to congratulate you and the other elected members of the Bureau, whose determined efforts to promote the objectives of the Committee have again been recognized today.

    In the past 16 months, the situation on the ground has deteriorated to unprecedented levels. The death toll now exceeds 1,100, with up to 20,000 injured on both sides, the overwhelming majority Palestinian.

    We have seen too much suffering. The deadly spiral of violence must stop. The parties should move away from confrontation and recriminations, and return to the negotiating table.

    To do that, it is absolutely critical that they finally start implementing, in full and without delay, the Mitchell Committee recommendations and the Tenet understandings with a view to securing a durable ceasefire. This would help reduce violence and restore a measure of mutual trust and faith in the peace process that have been lost in the past several months. In this context, I have called on both parties to make an effort to comply with the demands made by the "Quartet" in their joint statement of 25 October 2001.

    That statement urged Chairman Arafat to make a concerted effort to ensure full and strict compliance with the Palestinian Authority’s ceasefire orders, including through arresting those who defied his orders and taking further steps against terrorist organizations. It also called on Israel to immediately withdraw from Area A, halt all extrajudicial killings, ensure greater restraint by the Israeli Defence Forces, fully respect the ceasefire, move swiftly to ease closures and take steps for the immediate implementation of the Mitchell Report and Tenet plan.

    The peace process is going through an extremely trying period. Indeed, it is in distress. It has lost momentum and badly needs a renewal of energy and conviction. The parties should recommit themselves to the principles of Madrid and Oslo and return to a meaningful political dialogue aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The international community stands ready to help.

    The Tenet understandings and the Mitchell recommendations, which establish clear and specific obligations for both sides, provide the basis for restoring the peace process. Their scrupulous implementation would re-establish the necessary security conditions, as well as the necessary political commitments.

    Making progress on security-related issues alone, without addressing the occupation, will not bring lasting security. Ultimately, this can only be done by reviving the peace process. The urgency and gravity of the situation is such that preconditions that can all too easily be thwarted by extremists should not be allowed to become barriers to further progress. It is, therefore, vital that all aspects of Tenet and Mitchell should be advanced as a package.

    The demand for a major improvement of the security situation needs to be linked to initiatives on the political front, in order to facilitate the return of the parties to the negotiating table. The international community must encourage both parties to take the steps required in order to break the present impasse. We have seen in the past that extremists can be isolated, and security improved, once there are renewed prospects for negotiations and the climate of mistrust, frustration and despair is eased.

    The Palestinian leadership now faces great challenges. The destruction of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure will only increase the difficulty it has in meeting both its political and its security commitments. Certainly, the virtual house arrest imposed on President Arafat should be lifted.

    Daily violence, wide-scale destruction and repeated closures have had a catastrophic effect on the Palestinian economy. There has been a sharp rise in unemployment, leaving families without a source of income. Some 50 per cent of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line. The level of despair and hopelessness among them is at an all-time high.

    Emergency humanitarian relief has, therefore, become a top priority. International donors have provided much-needed support to the Palestinian people –- and to the Palestinian Authority, which is now operating under such severe restrictions. By all accounts, more assistance will be needed in the coming weeks and months. In view of the particular gravity of the crisis, and the severe economic hardship endured by the population, the international community should address this situation as a matter of great urgency.

    The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and many other United Nations agencies continue to provide emergency assistance and help to improve, or alleviate, the living conditions of millions of Palestinian families. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remains at the forefront, responding to the essential day-to-day needs of nearly 1.5 million registered refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and another 2.4 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

    In view of the worsening situation, UNRWA has recently issued its 2002 emergency appeal for assistance. I call on all the major contributors to help the Agency perform its vital humanitarian work.

    The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, has been actively involved in repeated efforts to defuse the present crisis, restart the peace process, and coordinate donor assistance to the Palestinian people. In particular, together with representatives of the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union -– the so-called "Quartet" –- and other partners, he has been working with the parties on the immediate task of achieving a ceasefire and reactivating the political process.

    I too have been engaged in these efforts, and I assure you that I will continue to work with all parties until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine is achieved, based, as I said, on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of "land for peace".

    In conclusion, let me say how much I appreciate the important work of this Committee, and express my support for its mandate.

    Thank you very much.

    * *** *