28 June 2006

United Nations Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Opens in Vienna with Call for Parallel Commitment by Parties

(Received from a UN Information Officer)

VIENNA, 27 June -- At a time of continuing tension and uncertainty on the ground, with violence claiming civilian lives almost daily in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for parallel commitment by the parties to advance the key issues for peace.

The Secretary-General, in a message delivered by Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, at the two-day meeting sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians wanted a negotiated two-State solution.  It was the responsibility of all parties to respond to that urgent and deeply felt need, as a two-State solution was crucial not only for the security of Israelis and Palestinians, but for the stability of the region as a whole.

The meeting, which brings together delegations and political leaders from both sides, parliamentarians, renowned experts, representatives of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations, the academic community and civil society, will review the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Several discussions will be convened to assess the political process and its challenges, and review international efforts in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

Asserting that the violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory now permeated all aspects of Palestinian life, the Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, Paul Badji ( Senegal) said that today's especially difficult times called for bolder measures.  It was not the moment to step back, but the moment to galvanize efforts to search for ways to stabilize the volatile situation and resume peaceful negotiations.  Amid deepening frustration, confrontations among the Palestinian factions had increased recently, diverting attention from the objective of Palestinian statehood.

Time and again, the news carried tragic reports of Palestinian families and young children, killed as they went about their daily lives, Mr. Badji said.  The disproportionate use of force by Israelis had become almost routine, and extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians were on the rise.  Qassam rockets launched at Israeli targets had also increased.  The Committee's position was clear:  it had repeatedly condemned the extrajudicial executions as inadmissible under international humanitarian law; and it had strongly denounced all terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as unjustified and undermining any prospect for reconciliation among the parties.

On behalf of the Director-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Michael Kingsley-Nyinah reminded participants that the Agency's mandate was humanitarian and non-political, even if the reality of its operational environment was one of armed conflict and political strife.  With peace the most sought-after "commodity" in the region, he was painfully aware that humanitarian action was fundamentally constrained and limited in the absence of political solutions.  Indeed, humanitarian action was no substitute for a just and lasting solution to political and armed conflict.  While UNRWA and other humanitarian actors would continue to do their part in steadfastly addressing the humanitarian dimension, they had to look to other actors to bring to fruition the profound, yet unfulfilled, desire for peace shared by the majority of Palestinians and Israelis.

Opening statements were also made this morning by Ralph Scheide, Ambassador and Head of the Middle East Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria, and Abdullah Abdullah, Head of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Speakers in the discussion were the representatives of China, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and Algeria, as well as the representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). 

Representatives of the Olof Palme International Foundation and the International Coordinating Network for Palestine also delivered statements. 

The Conference will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its work.

Opening of Conference

PAUL BADJI, Chairman, United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressed the Committee's alarm at the prevailing situation, in which the violence was not subsiding.  The Committee vigorously condemned the repeated incursions into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the bombs over the Gaza Strip and the extrajudicial assassinations perpetrated by Israel, which led to many casualties, including among the innocents.  In many cases, those assassinations had triggered Palestinian reprisals.  The Committee also denounced the suicide attacks perpetrated by Palestinian militants, as well as the indiscriminate killings of Israeli civilians.  Those could not be justified, no matter the cause.

At the same time, he said, the Committee was also alarmed by the serious socio-economic and humanitarian crisis that had "hit" the Palestinian people.  It was convinced that, in today's critical time, it was up to the international community to maintain and step up its assistance to the Palestinian people, in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further.  Members felt that, if nothing was done to provide immediate assistance, the situation would further exacerbate the misery among the Palestinians and compromise security and stability in the region.  That would also greatly hinder international efforts towards an equitable and sustainable solution.

Today's meeting would make it possible for all stakeholders to examine the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, he said.  Participants would also consider the peace process and its challenges, as well as international initiatives in support of Israeli and Palestinian peace.

Message from Secretary-General

On behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ANGELA KANE, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the event was taking place at a time of continuing tension and uncertainty on the ground.  Acts of violence, often taking the lives of innocent civilians, were an almost daily occurrence.

She said that the current period was also one of considerable change and transition for Israelis and Palestinians alike.  The Palestinian people, through debate and a referendum planned for July, were trying to agree on a common platform to bolster national unity.  Hopefully, in that process, the Palestinian Government would move closer towards the principles outlined by the Middle East Quartet this year.

Israel was considering a withdrawal from the West Bank, she continued.  If the process was negotiated and coordinated with the Palestinian side, that might help achieve the objective of a two-State solution.  If not, that might complicate efforts to achieve that goal and prejudice final status issues.

Parallel commitment by the parties to advancing key issues was essential, she said.  The Secretary-General welcomed the determination of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to pursue peace.  Clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians wanted a negotiated, two-State solution.  It was the responsibility of all parties to respond to that urgent and deeply felt need.  Regional partners had an important facilitating role.  A two-State solution was crucial not only for the security and prosperity of both parties, but for regional stability as a whole.

The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was also deeply troubling, she said.  The Quartet had recently endorsed a European Union proposal to set up a temporary global mechanism to deliver assistance to the Palestinian people.  That aid would soon begin reaching those in need.  Meanwhile, Israel should take steps to improve the humanitarian situation, in keeping with its responsibilities in the occupied Palestinian Territory and obligations arising from previous agreements.  Mr. Annan urged international donors to help avert a humanitarian crisis by responding swiftly to the latest consolidated appeal.

She said the Secretary-General pledged that the United Nations would remain fully engaged in efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just, lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), and 1515 (2003).

Opening Statements

Mr. BADJI, taking the floor again on behalf of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was most distressing.  Those especially difficult times called for bolder measures.  It was not the moment to step back, but the moment to galvanize efforts to search for ways to stabilize the volatile situation and resume political talks to pave the way for a peaceful end of the conflict.

The violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory permeated all aspects of Palestinian life, he said.  Time and again, the news carried tragic reports of families and young children killed as they went about their daily lives.  Since the start of the year, Israeli security forces had killed more than 100 Palestinians.  Israeli army incursions, air strikes targeting Palestinian towns and moving vehicles, and the disproportionate use of force had become almost routine.  The Israeli practice of extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians had been on the rise.  Also, the number of Qassam rocket launchings by Palestinians at Israeli targets had increased.

He said that the Committee's position on the matter was very clear:  it had repeatedly condemned the policy and practice of extrajudicial executions as inadmissible under international humanitarian law, he said.  At the same time, the Committee had strongly denounced all terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, which could not be justified, and undermined any prospect of reconciliation among the parties.

Amid the deepening frustration, confrontations among the Palestinian factions in recent weeks had become more frequent, diverting attention from the objective of Palestinian statehood, he said.  He realized the difficulty and complexity of the political transition in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly when the socio-economic situation was under tremendous pressure, owing to the Israeli and international fiscal sanctions and the halt of major donor assistance.  Hopefully, the Palestinian factions and organizations would overcome those challenges and focus on achieving unity for the sake of the common aspirations of their people.

On the Committee's behalf, he appealed to the Palestinian parties to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative and support the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel's right to exist, and to accept previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map, as endorsed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. 

In addition to the violence, the day-to-day living conditions of the Palestinian people were rapidly deteriorating, he said.  The Israeli Government's decision to withhold the Palestinian VAT and customs duties of some $50 million per month had caused a major shortfall in the Palestinian Authority's monthly budget.  The decision of some international donors to stop direct aid to the Palestinian Authority had resulted in further depleting the Authority's funds, pushing it to a virtual financial collapse.

The root of the conflict, now in its fortieth year, was the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory.  Its grip on the territory and its people had been reinforced through a rigid system of checkpoints, curfews, closures and roadblocks.  The ever-lengthening separation wall carved deep into the West Bank, dissecting Palestinian communities.  Families were faced with land confiscations and loss of access to schools, clinics, places of worship and employment, and friends and relatives.  Farmers reached their farmland only with great difficulty, and, if they were fortunate enough to harvest, could not bring their produce to market.

He said that Israeli settlements in the West Bank continued to expand and proliferate, particularly those around Jerusalem.  The Israeli Defence Ministry had authorized the expansion of four West Bank settlements to the north and south of Jerusalem, as well as in the Jordan Valley, creating new physical facts on the ground.  Last April, Prime Minister Olmert had announced his intention to hasten the pace of construction, completing the wall around Jerusalem by the end of 2006, despite the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion, which had rendered the wall illegal.

In the Gaza Strip, the widely welcomed Israeli disengagement last year had not improved the lives of Gazans, he said.  The movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip had been severely restricted and unpredictable.  Of the produce harvested from Gaza Strip greenhouses between January and May, only some 12 per cent had made it to outside markets.

Turning to the deadlocked political process, he said that Palestinian Authority President Abbas had repeatedly called upon Israel to return to the negotiating table.  He also emphasized that Israel had a partner for peace on the Palestinian side.  Three months had passed since the election of a new Government in Israel, without any meaningful steps from that Government towards resuming a political dialogue.  Efforts by regional powers, particularly Egypt and Jordan, to put the peace process back on track were welcome.

He said that the Israeli Government appeared to have opted for the so-called "convergence" or "realignment" plan, which sought to unilaterally fix the borders of Israel by consolidating main blocks of West Bank settlements, taking in swathes of Palestinian land.  If the plan was implemented without negotiations with the Palestinian side, it would most certainly have harmful consequences for the region.  Implementation of the plan would frustrate not only the Palestinian people's aspirations for a contiguous and independent State, but could foster insecurity among the States in the region and jeopardize relations between Israel and its neighbours.  That scenario would not bring the sought after sustainable peace.

He, therefore, urged Israel to concentrate on political negotiations with its Palestinian partners within the framework of the Road Map, which both sides had endorsed.

The international community had always supported Israelis and Palestinians in their search for reconciliation and peace, he noted.  In its May statement, the Quartet had reaffirmed its commitment to a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement based on resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.  It had also endorsed a European Union proposal for a temporary international mechanism to facilitate needs-based assistance directly to the Palestinian people.  The Palestinian Rights Committee had always advocated a peaceful solution to the question of Palestine, and it had given its support to the Road Map introduced by the Quartet, with a view to fulfilling the two-State vision.  In keeping with its mandate, the Committee continued to promote the full realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and to mobilize international assistance for and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

A comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the conflict would not just be a blessing for the Palestinians and Israelis, he said.  It would be a wider success that would, without a doubt, be felt across the region and the world.  It was in the international community's interest to remain actively engaged in promoting the peace process and to seeing the end of the conflict. 

RALPH SCHEIDE, Deputy Political Director and Head of the Middle East Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria, welcoming participants to the host country's United Nations offices, said his country believed in the urgent need to re-launch the process towards a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living in peace with Israel and its other neighbours.  Both parties must avoid unilateral measures that prejudiced final status issues.  Consequently, he would not recognize any change to pre-1967 borders, other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.

He said that recent events, the internal power struggle between Hamas and Fatah and the new escalation across the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, were a source of great concern.  President Abbas' bold step of calling for a referendum over the "prisoners document" could give the broad public the change to unequivocally express its demand for a negotiated solution.  Yet, a somehow ambiguous result of the referendum bore the risk that President, Government and Parliament would descent even deeper into a political struggle.  Hopefully, the efforts to engage in a national dialogue would prevent further violent inner-Palestinian confrontations. 

Calling on the Hamas-led Palestinian Government to accept the basic principles of the peace process -- non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of existing agreements -- he also called on Israel to refrain from any unilateral steps that could jeopardize a negotiated two-State solution.  The escalation of armed confrontation in recent days and weeks had showed the lack of a political perspective.  The solution to the conflict could only be political, based on negotiations and the principles of the Road Map.

As recent President of the European Union, Austria was, more than ever, involved in the search for progress towards a political solution and in efforts to alleviate the social and economic hardship of the Palestinian population, he said.  The Temporary International Mechanism, which the European Commission was presently operationalizing, certainly involved some risks.  Yet, that was the best contribution that could be made at this point.  A way needed to be found to avert a major (social and political) crisis in the Palestinian Territory, in order to keep the hope alive of a political solution. 

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Head of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that Palestine faced several challenges at this stage.  First, it had to put on track the political platform.  In the elections held earlier this year, those elected by a majority had had a different platform from the Palestinian Authority.  The task now was to have the new Government and the new majority in the Legislative Council toe the line of the Palestinian National Authority's political platform.  Consensus was close to being reached among the political groups.  That job needed to be concluded in preparation for confronting the present challenges imposed on the Palestinians by the occupier of their country. 

He said that the second challenge was the continued escalation of murders, assassinations, destruction and kidnapping of Palestinians.  Those were a daily occurrence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and were, in no way, helpful towards promoting peace.  There was a new Government in Israel, and he hoped it would work in cooperation with the Palestinian Government to set the direction.  Neither should be guided by extremists, but rather by those who cared for "every drop of blood -- be it Israeli or Palestinian" -- to prevent the violence and work towards normalizing life among the neighbouring countries in that part of the world.

The challenge had escalated in the past couple of days, with the military operation two days ago, resulting in the taking of an Israeli prisoner of war, he said.  The Palestinian Legislative Council was committed to the Geneva Conventions and ensuring that that prisoner's life was protected.  It also expected that Israel would not further complicate the situation by launching a wide-range attack on Gaza, thereby subjecting 1.4 million Palestinians to collective punishment.  There were other ways and means to defuse the situation, if there was a commitment on both sides of the divide to peace.

The third call was to revive the peace process, which had been long stagnant, he said.  There was no excuse whatsoever, even now, to remain hostage to the past, but to look to the future.  It was only through peace that both sides would win.  In Palestine, the people were committed to making peace with the occupiers, but only when that occupation had ended.  Continuation of the building of the separation wall -- the "discrimination wall" -- separating Palestinians from Palestinians, encircling Jerusalem and separating it from the rest of the territories, was no contribution to peace, nor was the settlement expansion or sending disguised Israeli soldiers into the middle of Palestinian cities, to kill or to kidnap.

He stressed that there were obligations on both sides.  The Palestinians were ready and willing to take measure to exercise their obligations, but that could only succeed if the Israeli Government worked towards peace by declaring its commitment to the Road Map and not doing anything that destroyed the chances for peace or ruled out the two-State solution.  Peace would be achieved when a Palestinian mother cried for the loss of an Israeli boy, and an Israeli mother cried for the loss of a Palestinian child.


SHI ZHONGJUN ( China) expressed his country's deep concern and upset over the current situation.  Facing complex and unstable circumstances, the leaders would hopefully show political courage and wisdom, dispel all disturbances and reopen peace talks without delay.  That was in conformity with the common wishes of both sides, as well as the international community.

He said he was currently worried about the situation in Palestine, and he hoped the Palestinian political parties would bridge the differences, consolidate the common understanding and restore the situation to stability through negotiations and dialogue.  Their aim should be to safeguard the fundamental and long-term interests of the Palestinian people, while taking the unity and the overall situation of Palestine into full consideration.

The international community, including the United Nations, should actively encourage and facilitate the two sides to build mutual trust, implement the Road Map and build an independent Palestinian State, as well as to restore the all-legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, in order to bring about Middle East peace and stability.  The Palestinian Rights Committee and the Division for Palestinian Rights had spared no efforts in promoting understanding and the attention of the international community to the issue of Palestine over the years.  He appreciated their work and would continue to support their efforts.  He would, as always, continue to play a constructive role in bring about lasting peace in the region.

RAMZI EZZELDIN RAMZY ( Egypt) said his country was committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.   Egypt had been the first Arab country to have made the strategic decision for peace with Israel, and it had been able, through negotiations, to regain all of its territories.  Just and comprehensive peace could only be realized on the basis of international legitimacy and United Nations resolutions, which were firm and called on Israel to withdraw from all Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, and called for the creation of an independent, viable Palestinian State, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

He said that genuine peace could not be realized through unilateral measures, which sought to impose the fait accompli.  Nor could it be established if the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, as recognized by the United Nations, were ignored.  Violence, land appropriation, the building of settlements and a separation wall, threats and policies forcing starvation did not build peace.   Israel's continued operations in the West Bank and Gaza had resulted in a tremendous loss of civilian life.  But, there was a glimmer of hope stemming from the meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, as well as from the decision to establish an international mechanism to meet the needs of the Palestinian people. 

Calling on both sides to resume the peace process as soon as possible, he said he looked forward to the day when two States lived side by side in peace and security.  "Let us not disappoint the Palestinian and Israeli people," he urged.  Egypt was committed to supporting the Palestinian cause in every way, and it had spared no effort to assist in creating the conditions conducive to dialogue.  The international community had the responsibility to ensure that a just and lasting peace of the Palestinian problem was achieved.  He was firmly convinced that all United Nations mechanisms and systems related to that issue should be continued.  That was especially true at a time when attempts were being made to merge some of those bodies and terminate others, within the context of the ongoing United Nations reform.  Egypt would continue to engage until a Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, was established.

HOSSEIN SHEIKHOLISLAM, Member of Parliament of Iran, deeming the current situation "appalling" and the plight of the Palestinian people "unspeakable", said that the realities on the ground suggested that Israel's systematic pattern of human rights violations and massive breaches of international law and international humanitarian law had continued unabated, resulting in the killing of nearly 4,000 Palestinians since September 2000.

He said that recent military operations against Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, had added to the misery and suffering that the Palestinian people had long endured.  As a consequence of that military campaign, the casualties and destruction inflicted on the Palestinian people continued to rise.  In fact, Israel's deadly air strikes and shelling of Gaza were part of a larger policy marked by State terrorism, expansionism, aggression and oppression.  Recent reports indicated that the continuous and increased violation of the right and aspiration of the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime had resulted in the deterioration of the situation to an unprecedented and unbearable level.

Moreover, he said, in defiance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and the unambiguous calls of the international community, the Israeli regime not only continued the construction of the illegal wall, but had even accelerated plans for completing it, while the settlement construction and land confiscations in the West Bank and other parts of the Palestinian Territory were continuing unabated. 

He said that the impunity with which Israel had been allowed to carry out its crimes had emboldened it to continue.  It was high time, therefore, for the international community to take effective measures to protect and enforce the basic rights of the Palestinian people and to help put an end to their suffering.

The Security Council should live up to its immense duty by preventing Israel from continuing to commit atrocities and flout resolutions, he said.  Regrettably, the Council had thus far failed to take any serious and tangible action, or even attempt to implement its own modest and limited decisions on the Palestinian question, owing to the unconditional support extended to Israel by a permanent member of the Council.  It was more unfortunate that such a failure had become a commonplace feature of the Council, even in the wake of the most atrocious crimes committed by Israel.

Continuing, he said that the democratic choice of the Palestinian people, as seen in the elections, deserved the respect and support of the international community.  The Israeli decision to halt the transfer of taxes was blackmailing the Palestinian people for exercising their democratic rights.  The restriction applied by certain countries regarding aid to the Palestinian Authority amounted to punishment of the Palestinians for exercising their basic rights in choosing their own representatives.  Such inadmissible punitive measures against a nation, the principles of democracy and democratic choice were a breach by those who often preached them.

In the context of Israeli's defiance of the international community, he said that particular reference should be made of the infamous Israeli nuclear weapons programme, which was a showcase of five decades of concealment and deception, in total disregard for the demand of the international community to immediately accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  Nuclear weapons in the hands of a regime with an unparalleled record of State terrorism and resort to aggression and the threat of force against other countries was a real threat to regional and global peace and security and to the non-proliferation regime.  The international community should urgently and decisively address that threat, and pursue the initiative to rid the region of mass destruction weapons.

SAMIR BAKR, Director of Coordination, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said the meeting was being held at a time when the Palestinian cause was going through one of its most delicate and dangerous phases, particularly in the aftermath of the elections.  He had hoped that the international community, especially the donors, would respect the outcome of the elections and not take actions to undermine their support of the Palestinian people. 

He said that Israeli claims that there was no Palestinian peace partner were only attempts to evade its obligations.  In the last few weeks, everyone had watched the massacres perpetuated by the occupation army in Gaza against innocent civilians.  Yet, the international reaction had not risen to the seriousness of that crime against humanity.  Israel was escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people, in violation of international law and agreements and norms, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, almost daily.  It was implementing a policy of collective punishment and committing extrajudicial killings.  It also continued to demolish Palestinian homes, bulldoze farms, confiscate land and build illegal colonial settlements.  It had also imposed a tight blockade, which limited the movement of Palestinians at hundreds of military checkpoints.

Those continuing Israeli actions had had destructive impacts on the Palestinian economy and infrastructure, placing it on the verge of collapse, he said.  OIC called on the international community today to undertake serious endeavours to provide political and material support to the Palestinian people, as a continuation of the current situation would have catastrophic consequences affecting the whole region.  He also called on the permanent members of the Security Council, and the European Union, to promptly intervene to bring an end to Israeli illegal practices, and on the international community not to recognize any unilateral Israeli measures.

He said that the only way to stop the deterioration of the situation, which threatened regional stability and security, lay in the following steps, among others:  Israel must stop the crimes and aggression against Palestinian civilians; the political process must be resumed promptly on the basis of the Road Map and relevant United Nations resolutions; the construction of the apartheid wall must stop and be dismantled; withdrawal from all Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, to the pre-1967 borders; a just solution must be found for the refugees; and the Palestinian people must be enabled to create an independent State. 

MICHAEL KINGSLEY-NYINAH, Director, Executive Office, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), on behalf of the Director-General, said that the Agency's mandate was to provide services and facilities that addressed the humanitarian and human development needs of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.  It had striven, and continued to strive, to enhance the livelihood and living conditions of the Palestinian refugees through the delivery of a variety of programmes in education, vocational training, health, relief, social welfare, micro-finance, micro-enterprise and even in mental health.

He said that UNRWA sought to alleviate poverty among the refugees, as it sought to strengthen their ability to sustain themselves and enhance their capacity for self-reliance.  Its vision was for those refugees to become "agents of strength and human progress" within the wider Palestinian community.  UNRWA's mandate was humanitarian and non-political, even if the reality of its operational environment was one of armed conflict and political strife.  Today's Conference could not have been held at a more opportune moment.

In the region, peace was the most highly desired commodity, yet, also the most elusive, he said.  Even as we speak, the elusive quest for peace was being tragically illustrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Everyone agreed that a great deal was achieved through humanitarian and development action by UNRWA and other United Nations and non-governmental organization actors.  Humanitarian action helped to preserve the dignity of the Palestinian refugees and contributed to calm; its presence reassured Palestinians that the international community was mindful of their plight. 

At the same time, he said he was painfully aware that humanitarian action was fundamentally constrained and limited in the absence of political solutions.  Indeed, humanitarian action was no substitute for a just and lasting solution to political and armed conflict.  UNRWA and other humanitarian actors would continue to do their part, steadfastly addressing the humanitarian dimension.  However, it had to look to other actors to bring to fruition the profound, yet unfulfilled, desire for peace, shared by the majority of Palestinians and Israelis. 

TRYONO WIBOWO ( Indonesia) recalled that, last month, the Foreign Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement had met in Malaysia, and had, among other things, stressed the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab Summit in Lebanon, in March 2002.  They had called for the exertion of all necessary efforts to reinvigorate that Initiative.  Indonesia was unwavering in its full support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.  He congratulated the Palestinian Authority for the successful holding of open, honest, fair and democratic elections early this year.  He was deeply regretful, however, over the policy of certain countries to cut off financial support to the Palestinian Authority and to impose its political isolation in the election's aftermath.  That had only aggravated and intensified the Palestinians' hardship.

He said that all democratic countries should respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people and fully support the Palestinian Authority.  At the same time, Palestinians should remain united, as disunity would only make it more difficult to "cast off the yoke of the occupying Power".  Also disturbing was Israel's continued flagrant violation of international law.  While he noted Israel's withdrawal from within Gaza and the dismantlement of the settlements that had entailed, he noted with alarm the continuing Israelis military attacks against civilians, including children.  That gravely threatened the prospects for a negotiated settlement based on the two-State solution.

The international community should take immediate action to see to it that Israel ceased the atrocities and respected its obligations under international law, he said.  Violence and unilateralism could never solve the conflict.  Both sides, therefore, should refrain from violence, which only aggravated the situation and sowed distrust.  Hopefully, the international community and the Quartet would exert all efforts during the present critical period to revive the peace process and salvage the Road Map.

TAOUS FEROUKIJI ( Algeria) said it was clear that the policies being pursued by the new Israeli Government were far from encouraging.  Algeria understood the importance of peaceful coexistence, but recent events had shown that no progress, or very little, had been made through dialogue.  In fact, Security Council resolutions had not been sufficiently implemented, and there was no end to the illegal occupation in sight.  The Road Map had not been put into practice, and no sovereign Palestinian State had been created.  The building of the wall, which resembled an instrument of an apartheid regime, had further complicated that situation.

She said that dialogue was meeting several obstacles created by Israel, which had refused to talk to the Palestinian Authority.  It claimed there were no Palestinian interlocutors; the world had heard that from Israel in the past.  The Palestinian Authority was fragile and incapable of managing its own financial resources, owing to all of the constraints imposed on it by Israel, which had bred violence and despair among the Palestinians.  There was a general feeling of frustration throughout the Arab world, as a result.  A historic offer was still on the negotiating table, but, unfortunately, that had been rejected by Israel.  She continued to believe, however, in the value of full-fledged dialogue and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. 

ANNA BALLETBO I PUIG, Olof Palme International Foundation, said the situation at the Foundation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was bad.  Professors were not being paid and the organization was unable to provide even meals for the orphans in residence.  The institute had been a great success, but now many students were unable to attend classes because they could not pay the fees.  Unfortunately, the international community, once it had decided to stop sending money to the new Government of Palestine, had not provided a way for the Foundation or other non-governmental organizations to get their much needed money.  For a lot of people, the situation was impossible to understand.  Democracy was based on consensus, but there could be no consensus over unilateral decisions.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, co-Chairperson, International NGO Network on Palestine, said there was a crisis looming in Gaza.  Everyone had seen pictures of Israeli tanks massed on the border, ready to reoccupy the Strip.  The crisis was humanitarian in nature, but it was also political.  It was about the end of hope for ending the occupation and finding a political settlement.  A hopeful conclusion required the engagement of the United Nations, and she hoped the Committee would take the lead in crafting a new diplomacy.  A new call for an international peace conference was needed, based on the Arab Initiative.  But, such a conference should be global, and not regional, because the crisis in the Territory was now part of a much wider global situation. 

She said that the effort by the Quartet and the Road Map had failed, as well as the Israeli unilateral moves and a new kind of diplomacy by the United States.  Thus, a new mechanism was needed, not only for the provision of humanitarian support, but for a new diplomacy based on a new international peace conference.  She hoped the Committee, on behalf of the United Nations, would broaden the initiative towards the creation of a new kind of diplomacy.

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