20 June 2003


NEW YORK, 19 June (UN Headquarters) -- The situation in the Middle East remained unclear, full of sometimes contradictory, and sometimes mixed, signals and developments, the Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning. 

A series of important events had taken place in the region since the Committee’s last meeting on 6 May.  Among them were the first meetings between Prime Ministers Abbas and Sharon, the official acceptance of the “Road Map” by the Israeli Government, and the Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba Summits, held on 3 and 4 June, respectively.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said that formal presentation of the Road Map had been an important development met with enthusiasm.  However, developments since then had not always been positive.  Among the problems was what was seen as an attempt by the Israeli side to escape the first obligation under the Road Map, namely, the unambiguous acceptance of the Road Map itself.  Then, the Israeli Government decided to accept the “steps” of the Road Map coupled with 14 points, referred to as reservations, which represented some additional obstacles in the way of the smooth implementation of the Road Map.

The summits in Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba were indeed important developments, he said.  In Aqaba, the two sides were expected to make clear statements in accordance with the Road Map, which specified certain language both sides had to use in their statements.  The Palestinian statement was in line with the requirements of the Road Map and even went a step further, in the hopes of bolstering confidence between the two sides.

The Israeli statement, meanwhile, fell far short of what was required under the Road Map, failing to declare a cessation of attacks against Palestinians everywhere -- the language in the Road Map, he said.  It also failed to declare unambiguous acceptance of the sovereign State of Palestine, another requirement under the Road Map, as well as the cessation of all settlement activities.

All of that, he noted, led to the perception on the part of the Palestinians that the results of Aqaba were not balanced and could not be a good beginning for implementation of the Road Map.  The day after the Aqaba Summit, Israeli forces had assassinated two Palestinians.  That was followed by Palestinian violence, Israeli extra-judicial killings and suicide bombings.  In spite of all that, Palestinian efforts continued to ensure the necessary internal steps towards achieving a national acceptance of a bilateral ceasefire between all Palestinian groups and the Israeli side. 

At a certain point, he said, it had been felt that such a ceasefire was achievable in a relatively short time.  The problem lay with what was seen by the Palestinians as an Israeli policy on continuing extra-judicial killings and other forms of attacks against Palestinian targets.  That made it impossible to reach any meaningful ceasefire agreement.  Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority was determined to pursue the Road Map and was reasonably confident that it was still doable, provided that the Sharon Government would be ready to proceed in a sincere way with the implementation of the Road Map.

He also drew attention to the upcoming meeting of the Quartet in Amman, preceded by a visit by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.  He hoped such important meetings could contribute to promoting a positive atmosphere and reaching the next steps in the implementation of the Road Map.  He also hoped to see a more full and continuous involvement by all members of the Quartet in the peace process. 

In addition, he hoped to see an end to the untenable position vis-à-vis the Palestinian leadership.  It defied logic to expect that the Palestinian Prime Minister would succeed in his efforts, while one member of the Quartet maintained a negative stance towards the President of the Palestinian Authority.  The continuation of such a position could only ensure some inevitable failures down the road.  The Palestinian side had gone out of its way to fulfil its obligations regarding internal matters, as well as accepting and implementing the Road Map.  He had not seen the necessary pressure by the international community, particularly the Quartet, on the Israeli side to ensure a similar attitude.  

Egypt’s representative agreed that Israel had been reluctant to accept the Road Map. Under pressure from the White House, however, it had done so.  He welcomed that step.  Israel’s greatest concern, it seemed, was “sequentialism” versus “parallelism”.  In previous declarations, Prime Minister Sharon and his Government had offered clear evidence that the idea of parallelism was being abandoned.

He also expressed concern about proposed language for a draft resolution in the General Assembly on the prevention of armed conflict, namely, a paragraph on the root causes of armed conflict, and how occupation could lead to armed conflict.  He expressed particular concern with the phrase “illegal acquisition of land”.  He hoped delegations would consult with experts on the issue and convince them that the phrase was not proper terminology in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Commenting on the draft resolution on prevention of armed conflict, Mr. Al-Kidwa noted that there was no way to deal with armed conflict while ignoring an essential aspect of such phenomenon, namely, foreign occupation.  Like it or not, he stressed, most armed conflicts resulted in foreign occupation.  Almost half of the international humanitarian legal instruments dealt with the protection of civilians under foreign occupation.  Attempts to ignore that were ludicrous, illegitimate and constituted an attempt to change international law. 

Committee Chairman, Papa Louis Fall (Senegal), briefed members on two recent meetings held in Kyiv, namely, the United Nations International Meeting in Support  of Middle East Peace on 13 and 14 May, and the Public Forum in Support of Middle East Peace on 15 May.  Some 46 countries had been represented, along with Palestine, two intergovernmental organizations, 13 non-governmental organizations and 27 media organizations.  The Committee had met with the President of Ukraine and the Foreign Minister.  The meetings, which consisted of three plenary meetings and the public debate, culminated in a final document. 

He said delegates had reviewed the disturbing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, the dismantling of the Palestinian infrastructure, the humanitarian disaster facing the Palestinian people and the disastrous state of the Palestinian economy.  Given those conditions, the conference had emphasized the responsibility of the occupying Power and called for the mobilization of humanitarian aid.  Participants had debated ways to relaunch the political process, which was currently at a stalemate.

The Chairman added that certain events had been noted in the movement towards peace, including the nomination of Mr. Abbas and confirmation of his government by the Palestinian Legislative Council, the presentation of the Road Map and the diplomatic visit of United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.  The conference called upon the Security Council to endorse the Road Map, and require the parties, particularly Israel, to remain actively seized of the issue.  He expressed gratitude to the Ukrainian Government for the outstanding contribution it had made by holding the conference.

Mr. Al-Kidwa also expressed his appreciation to the Ukrainian Government for its support and hospitality in holding the conference.

Ukraine’s representative thanked the Committee for agreeing to hold the meetings in his country.  He believed the meetings, which were held at a critical juncture, had made an important contribution to the process.  The public forum format, tested for the first time in Kyiv, might be used in the future.

Also this morning, the Committee approved the provisional agenda for the upcoming United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, which will be held on 4 and 5 September at United Nations Headquarters in New York. 

In other business, the Committee expressed appreciation for service of the outgoing Chief of the Division for Palestinian Rights, Telma Abascal, who will be retiring at the end month.  At the conclusion of the meeting, the Chairman also highlighted the need for punctuality on the part of delegates and the prompt commencement of meetings.

The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.

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