Palestine and The U.N. in Retrospect: The Nineties

(Part 6 of 6)

This is the sixth in a series of six retrospects, listed chronologically by decade, looking back at the most important events related to the question of Palestine that have taken place at the United Nations since the inception of the organization in 1945. These events have greatly influenced both the history and the present of the Palestinian people and will affect their future also, as the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine must be upheld until it is solved in all its aspects.

On 25 May 1990, the Security Council meets in Geneva, with Chairman Yasser Arafat in attendance, after the U.S. refuses to grant him a visa to attend the meeting in New York. The Security Council held the debate on the situation in the occupied territories, and on 31 May 1990, in a meeting in New York, a draft resolution is vetoed by the U.S.

On 12 October 1990, the Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 672 (1990), which condemns the acts of violence committed by Israeli security forces on 8 October 1990 at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem and other Holy Place of Jerusalem, resulting in over twenty Palestinian deaths and the injury of more than one hundred and fifty people; and calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by it legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is applicable to all the territories occupied since 1967. The resolution also requests the Secretary-General to send a mission to the region. During the debate, the Palestinian delegation shows a video tape documenting the Israeli aggression.

On 24 October 1990, the Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 673, deploring the refusal of the Israeli government to receive the mission of the Secretary-General and urging it to comply with resolution 672 (1990).

During the 45th Session of the General Assembly, no vote was taken on the report of the Credentials Committee as required by the rules of procedures. This was a compromise reached by the President of the General Assembly in light of a proposed amendment to the resolution on the report of the Credentials Committee, indicating that the credentials of the delegation of Israel do not relate to or cover the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem; and the Syrian Golan.

On 28 November 1990, the General Assembly once more adopts resolution 45/37, calling upon all states concerned to accord the delegations of national liberation movements recognized by the Organization of African Unity and /or by the League of Arab States, the facilities, privileges and immunities necessary for the performance of their functions, in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations of a Universal Character.

On 4 December 1990, the General Assembly adopts resolution 45/52 calling upon all countries of the Middle East to place their nuclear activities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; and in its resolution 45/63 the General Assembly condemns Israel’s refusal to renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, and calls upon all states to end aid to Israel in this field.*

The General Assembly adopts resolutions 45/67 A,B,C on 6 December 1990 on the Question of Palestine, endorsing the recommendations of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and requesting continuation of the work of the Division for Palestinian Rights and the special information program on the question of Palestine. Under the same agenda item, the General Assembly adopts a resolution calling for the convening of an international peace conference on the Middle East under the auspices of the U.N., and a resolution on the intifada, the uprising of the Palestinian people.*

On 11 December 1990, the General Assembly adopts resolutions 45/73 A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K on UNRWA. The resolutions respectively call for contributions to UNRWA and endorse assistance to Palestine refugees; call upon Israel to permit the return of displaced Palestinians and to remove obstacles to the establishment of Al-Quds University for Palestinian refugees; request the Secretary-General to take appropriate steps for the protection and administration of Arab refugee property, assets and property rights; and condemn Israeli raids on UNRWA premises, as well as Israeli policies against Palestinian educational institutions.*

The General Assembly adopts resolutions 45/74 A,B,C,D,E,F,G on 11 December 1990 on Israeli practices affecting human rights in the occupied territories, condemning the continued and persistent violation by Israel of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949; reaffirming the applicability of the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied since 1967; condemning Israel’s policies of settlements and annexation in the occupied territories, as well as its measures against civil and educational freedom there, and for its expulsion of Palestinian leaders.*

On 13 December 1990, the General Assembly adopts resolutions 45/83 A,B,C on the situation in the Middle East. The three resolutions consist of an omnibus resolution on the Middle East, a resolution on the Syrian Golan and a third on the status of occupied Jerusalem.*

On 20 December 1990, the Security Council, after lengthy discussions and maneuvering, adopts resolution 681 (1990), on ways and means of ensuring the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation. In the resolution, the Council urges the Government of Israel to accept the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 and to abide scrupulously by the provisions of the Convention; calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Convention to ensure respect by Israel, the occupying Power, for its obligations under the Convention in accordance with article 1 thereof. The resolution also requests the Secretary-General, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to develop further the idea of convening a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention; requests the Secretary-General to monitor and observe the situation regarding Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation and to utilize and designate or draw upon the U.N. and other personnel and resources present there needed to accomplish this task; and requests the Secretary-General to periodically report to the Council on the matter. In the resolution the Council took into consideration the Presidential Statement of the same date in which the Council first agreed upon the idea of an international peace conference on the Middle East, appropriately timed and properly structured.

On 21 December 1990, the General Assembly adopts resolution 45/183, requesting the international community to provide assistance to the Palestinian people in cooperation with the PLO.*

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 694 (1991) on 24 May 1991, deploring Israel’s deportation of Palestinian civilians and declaring this action to be in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is applicable to all the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem.

In October 1991, the Middle East Peace Conference convenes in Madrid. This development is welcomed by the 46th Session of the General Assembly. At the same time, the package of resolutions related to the issue of Palestine are retained almost intact, while the resolution on the Syrian Golan is not presented during this session, and the omnibus resolution on the situation in the Middle East is dropped.

On 16 December 1991, the General Assembly adopts resolution 46/86, revoking the determination in its resolution 3379(XXX) of 10 November 1975. (The latter resolution had determined Zionism to be a form of racism and racial discrimination.)

On 6 January 1992, the Security Council adopts resolution 726 (1992), which condemns the decision by Israel to deport twelve Palestinian civilians from the occupied Palestinian territories; reaffirms the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to all the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem; and requests Israel to ensure the safe and immediate return of all those deported.

On 18 December 1992, the Security Council adopts resolution 799 (1992), in which the Council strongly condemns the deportation by Israel, the occupying Power, of hundreds of Palestinian civilians on 17 December 1992; expresses its firm opposition to any such deportations by Israel; reaffirms the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention; affirms that the deportation of civilians constitutes a contravention of Israel’s obligations under the Convention; and demands that Israel ensure the safe and immediate return to the occupied territories of all those deported.

On 22 December 1992, the General Assembly adopts resolution 47/172 on the economic and social repercussions of Israeli settlements on the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and the Arab population of the occupied Syrian Golan.*

On 14 September 1993, Chairman Arafat visits the U.N. to meet with the Secretary-General to brief him about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements at the White House a day earlier.

During the 48th Session, the package of resolutions related to the Question of Palestine undergoes several changes, including the combination of some of them and a general revision of their language. All relevant agenda items are retained as are positions on all basic issues, the two relevant Committees (Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices) and the necessary budgetary allocations. Also during that session the resolution on the Middle East peace conference under the agenda item of the Question of Palestine is transformed into a resolution entitled "Peaceful settlement of the Question of Palestine". The vote on this resolution and the package as a whole rises dramatically, with the European countries casting positive votes. The U.S., in cooperation with Norway and the Russian Federation, introduces a new resolution in support of the Middle East peace process, and the resolution on assistance to the Palestinian people is adopted by consensus. The report of the Credentials Committee is voted upon according to normal procedures.

On 10 December 1993, the General Assembly adopts decision 48/417, establishing a working relationship between the Advisory Commission of UNRWA and the PLO.

On 18 March 1994, the Security Council adopts resolution 904 (1994), in which the Council strongly condemns the massacre in Hebron committed against Palestinian worshipers in the Mosque of Ibrahim (Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi), on 25 February 1994, during the holy month of Ramadan, and its aftermath which took the lives of more than 50 Palestinian civilians and injured several others; calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to take and implement measures to prevent illegal acts of violence by Israeli settlers including the confiscation of arms; and calls for measures to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians, including a temporary international or foreign presence within the context of the peace process. In the resolution, the Council also requests the cosponsors of the peace process, the U.S. and the Russian Federation, to continue their efforts to invigorate the peace process and to undertake the necessary support for the implementation of the above-mentioned measures. The U.S. sought a rare procedure of a paragraph-by-paragraph vote and the resolution as a whole was adopted without a vote.

On 25 May 1994, the Secretary-General appoints Ambassador Terje Larsen of Norway as Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories to ensure coordination of the work of the agencies of the U.N. involved in providing assistance to the Palestinian people.

On 2 December 1994, the General Assembly adopts resolution 49/21 B on special economic assistance to individual countries or regions, requesting the Secretary-General to designate a U.N. agency to disburse the voluntary contributions given by donors for salaries and other start-up costs of the Palestinian police force. On 13 April 1995, the General Assembly adopts resolution 49/21 O, requesting the Secretary-General to designate UNRWA once again to disburse the contributions.

On 23 December 1994, the General Assembly adopts resolution 49/149, reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and urging all states, specialized agencies and organizations of the U.N. system to continue to support the Palestinian people in their quest for self-determination.

In October 1995, the U.N. convenes a Special Commemorative Meeting on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. In resolution 49/12 B of 24 May 1995, the Preparatory Committee and the General Assembly decided that the same arrangements extended to member states with regard to participation in the commemoration will be extended to Palestine in its capacity as observer (in addition to Switzerland and the Holy See). As a result, for the duration of the Special Commemorative Meeting, Palestine is treated as a member state. President Arafat attends the meeting and addresses the General Assembly during its first session before the Foreign Ministers of member states who spoke in that session.

On 28 September 1996, the Security Council adopts resolution 1073 (1996) on the action by the government of Israel to open an entrance to a tunnel in the vicinity of Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem and its consequent results, including the tragic events in Jerusalem and the areas of Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip, which resulted in a high number of deaths and injuries among Palestinian civilians. The resolution calls for the immediate cessation and reversal of all acts which resulted in the aggravation of the situation, and also calls for ensuring the safety and protection of the Palestinian people and for the timely implementation of the agreements reached.

On 13 December 1996, the General Assembly adopts an additional resolution 51/133 on the Israeli settlements, reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and in the Syrian Golan are illegal and an obstacle to peace and economic and social development and demanding complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities.

On 16 December 1996, the General Assembly adopts an additional resolution 51/190 on the Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources. The resolution reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people and the population of the Syrian Golan over their natural resources, including land and water, and recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to claim restitution as a result of any exploitation, loss or depletion of their natural resources.

On a trip to the U.S. following the signing of the Hebron Protocol with the Government of Israel, President Arafat visits the U.N. on 5 March 1997, where he meets with the new Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, the President of the General Assembly, and privately with members of the Security Council.

On 5 March 1997, the Security Council convenes to consider the issue of Jerusalem, following Israel’s decision to build a new settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim to the south of East Jerusalem. On 7 March 1997, the U.S. vetoes the draft resolution presented by the four European members of the Council, which calls upon Israel to abandon its impending construction of a settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim.

Upon the request of the Arab Group at the U.N., the General Assembly resumes its 51st session, on 12 and 13 March 1997, to address the situation in Occupied Jerusalem. The Assembly adopts resolution 51/223, which consists of the same text as that vetoed by the Security Council, by a vote of 130 – 2 (U.S. and Israel opposed).

On 21 March 1997, the Security Council reconvenes to address the Jabal Abu Ghneim crisis. The U.S. again vetoes a draft resolution calling upon Israel to halt the construction.

For the first time in fifteen years, on 24 April 1997, the General Assembly convenes an emergency special session (ESS) to consider "Illegal Israeli Actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory". On 25 April 1997, the tenth ESS overwhelmingly adopts resolution ES-10/2, a strong resolution condemning Israel’s construction at Jabal Abu Ghneim and all other illegal Israeli actions in the occupied territories, reaffirming that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purported to alter the character, legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem are null and void and have no validity whatsoever, demanding a cessation of all Israeli settlement activities, as well as of all illegal measures and actions in Jerusalem, and recommending collective measures, and establishing mechanisms for follow-up.

On 7 May 1997, the U.N. Committee against Torture in Geneva summons Israel for a hearing to face accusations that its policies and practices violate the International Convention against Torture. The Committee criticizes Israel for being the sole nation to have codified and legalized the use of torture in interrogation.

On 26 May 1997, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, announces that the Agency is technically bankrupt, and makes an urgent plea for $25 million to meet its 1997 budget.

The U.N. holds a solemn meeting on 9 June 1997, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, to commemorate thirty years of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

On 13 June 1997, the General Assembly determines that Israel should pay $1.7 million to cover the costs of its 18 April 1996 attack on Qana, Lebanon, which represents the first time a country is held accountable for peacekeeping costs. Israel rejects the Assembly’s decision.

The General Assembly reconvenes the 10th ESS, on 15 July 1997, to consider the report of the Secretary-General on the actual situation in the occupied territory. The Assembly again overwhelmingly adopts a resolution (ES-10/3), condemning Israeli settlement policy, demanding a cessation of Israel’s settlement activities, demanding that Israel immediately cease and reverse all actions taken illegally under international law against Palestinian Jerusalemites, and recommending the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

On 13 November 1997, the General Assembly resumes the 10th ESS for the second time, at the request of the Arab Group. The session is reconvened to follow-up the results of the previous two meetings and to consider the report of the Secretary-General on the matter of convening a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to enforce Israeli compliance with the provisions of the Convention, which is applicable to all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. On that day, resolution ES-10/4 is overwhelming adopted, requesting the Swiss government, in its capacity as depository of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to undertake the necessary steps in this regard, including the convening of a meeting of experts, with a target date not later than the end of February 1998.

The annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is observed at the U.N. on 1 December 1997. This day marks the adoption, on 29 November 1947, of resolution 181 (II), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with Jerusalem as corpus separatum. 1997 marks fifty years since the partition of Palestine.

On 9 December 1997, the General Assembly addresses the agenda items on the Question of Palestine and the Situation in the Middle East. This day also marks the ten-year anniversary of the start of the Palestinian intifada (uprising). During the following days, the Assembly adopts a total of twenty-one resolutions on the Middle East, nineteen of which specifically concern Palestine.

On 24-25 February 1998, the Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People is held in Brussels, Belgium with the participation of President Arafat and the Foreign Minister of Belgium, Mr. Erik Derycke. The Conference is organized by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in coordination with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the League of Arab States. Attendance at the Conference included a large number of member states, the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General of the OIC and the Vice-President of Columbia (on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries [NAM]).

On 17 March 1998, for the third time, the General Assembly resumes the 10th ESS to address "Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory." It overwhelmingly adopts Resolution ES-10/5, reaffirming the previous resolutions of the ESS, reiterating demands for full Israeli implementation of these resolutions, and reiterating, in specific, the recommendations for the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. The resolution also reiterates the need for the convening of an experts meeting in preparation for the conference and extends the target date for that meeting until the end of April 1998.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, visits the Palestinian Territory from March 23-24 1998, where he is met by President Arafat. Later, he meets with Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem. The visit is part of a tour of the region, which includes Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Israel.

On 7 July 1998, the U.N. General Assembly upgrades the representation of Palestine at the U.N. A resolution entitled "Participation of Palestine in the Work of the United Nations" is adopted by a vote of 124 in favor, 4 against, and 10 abstentions.

After a debate on 30 June 1998, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopts a statement on 13 July calling Israel’s plan to expand Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries "a serious and damaging development" and calling on the Jewish state "not to take any other steps which would prejudice the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

On 28 September 1998, Palestine participates, for the first time, in the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. President Arafat addresses the plenary during the opening segment of the 53rd session of the GA on behalf of Palestine, marking the first time that an entity that is not a Member State participates in the General Debate.

On 18 November 1998, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously adopts resolution entitled Bethlehem 2000. This unanimous support is a testament to the importance attached to the forthcoming Bethlehem 2000 commemorations and its concomitant events, which are scheduled to begin Christmas 1999 and to continue until Easter 2001, in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and to mark the onset of the third millennium.

On 30 November 1998, the United Nations solemnly commemorates the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (29 November) and serves as the host to an annual exhibit devoted to Palestinian culture and heritage. The theme of this year’s exhibit is Bethlehem 2000 and displays pictures, artifacts, and cultural items from the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

In November 1998, the U.N. secretariat makes some changes regarding Palestine in the book of Permanent Missions to the United Nations ("the Blue Book"). The location of the category under which Palestine is listed is moved and placed immediately after non-member states and before the inter-governmental organizations. The title of Palestine’s category is also changed to "Entities Having Received a Standing Invitation to Participate as Observers in the Sessions and the Work of the General Assembly and Maintaining Permanent Observer Missions at Headquarters" instead of "Organizations Having received a standing invitation to participate as observers. . ." Earlier, the word "Office" had been used instead of "Mission." Another such change, at the request of the Mission, is the use of the title "Ambassador" in conjunction with "Permanent Observer of Palestine".

The 53rd session of the General Assembly marks the first time in the history of the U.N. that Palestine co-sponsors a UN resolution, co-sponsoring a package of 21 resolutions and one decision dealing specifically with the question of Palestine.

Also during the 53rd session, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) makes some changes in its program of work, many of which were of a practical nature. Two important changes are made regarding cooperation with and the participation of NGOs. The first change directs efforts at organizing thematic international conferences and meetings that would be open to the participation of governments, NGOs and other components of civil society, to substitute for the perviously separate symposia and seminars. The second change channels some of the Committee’s resources at assisting and cooperating with Palestinian NGOs on the ground, as well as at supporting some NGO activity in various continents.

On 5 February 1999, the 10th ESS is resumed for the sixth time by the General Assembly to address "Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory." It overwhelmingly adopts Resolution ES-10/6, which recommeds the conveing of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect in accordance with commoin article 1. The resolution specifically recommends the convening of the conference on 15 July at the U.N. Office at Geneva. The Palestinian decision to reconvene the 10th ESS is based on the fact that Israel did not comply with any of the demands made in the previous resolutions of the session and on the fact that the conference, which was recommended three times by the session, had not yet been convened. The convening of the conference will represent the first time in the history of the treaty that the High Contracting Parties meet to consider a specific situation.

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) organizes a highly successful Bethlehem 2000 International Conference in continuation of its efforts with regard to the Bethlehem 2000 Project. The conference, convened from 18 to 19 February 1999 at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) headquarters in Rome, is supported and attended by Palestine, Italy, the Vatican, church authorities, the European Commission, the United Nations system and various other international organizations and institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

On 22 February 1999, Palestine participates in U.N. Security Council debate on the the issue of "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict," a debate which is clearly congruent with the numerous appeals made by Palestine, in the past as well as in the present, for respect and enforcement of instruments of international law, international humanitarian law and U.N. resolutions.