Statement by Mr. Marwan Jilani at the Center For Policy Analysis on Palestine on "The historical and ongoing role of the United Nations in bringing about a just settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict", 20 March 1998:

In 1922, the League of Nations placed Palestine under the British mandate and incorporated the Balfour Declaration into that mandate. The United Nations inherited the question of Palestine from the League of Nations when the United Kingdom decided to bring the question before the United Nations in February 1947.

The United Nations General Assembly convened its first special session between 28 April and 15 May 1947 to find an early settlement to the question of Palestine. During the session, the General Assembly established the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to prepare a report on the question and to submit proposals for a solution. On 29 November 1947, during its second session, the General Assembly adopted the partition plan, contained in resolution 181(II).

The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were failed again by the United Nations' partition plan as they were failed by the mandate of the League of Nations. On the other hand, Israel became the only state to achieve statehood and acquire territory through an act of the United Nations. Since then the question of Palestine has inextricably been a responsibility of the United Nations.

The United Nations played a major historical role with regard to the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict during the period of détente when the UN gave legitimacy to the State of Israel through the partition plan and later when dealing with the problem of Palestine refugees. The creation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in 1950 by the United Nations prevented the exasperation of the catastrophe, which threatened the peace and security of the whole region. The second time that the United Nations was allowed to play a major role was in the aftermath of the June 1967 war when the Security Council adopted resolution 242 (1967) which reaffirmed the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and stated the principles of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and which represents the cornerstone of the US policy in the Middle East.

Since then the United Nations did not and was not allowed (mainly by Israel and the US) to play any major role in any Middle East peace settlement. Despite the concerted efforts of the US and Israel to block the United Nations from taking any action with regard to the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, however, the question continued to enjoy a high priority and profile at the United Nations. This is due to various factors: the just cause of Palestine, the concerted Arab position on the centrality of the question of Palestine, in addition to the international era prevailing at the time, characterized by the struggle for decolonization and the Cold War.

It was in the aftermath of the second Gulf war and the launching of the Madrid Middle East peace process that the Palestinian side felt most vulnerable. The destruction of the Arab regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deterioration of the socio-economic situation of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and in the Diaspora as a result of the loss of livelihood of almost half a million Palestinians in Kuwait, and the campaign against those who did not support the coalition forces (especially the PLO) were all additional reasons for the United States and Israel to try to isolate the Palestinians at the United Nations and reverse the process of international legitimacy that has accumulated throughout the years.

Despite this extremely difficult period, the question of Palestine continued to enjoy the same important profile and support at the United Nations. This was due to the fact that the Observer Mission of Palestine at the United Nations had since the beginning of the Middle East peace process, a clear vision with regard to the role of the United Nations. That vision is based on three principles: The first principle is that of the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until it is effectively solved from all its aspects. This responsibility did not end with the mere start of the peace process or later upon signing the interim agreements. The second principle is the need and responsibility of the international community to uphold the Charter of the United Nations, international law and relevant Security Council resolutions. These remain valid in all circumstances and the agreements reached between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides complement them. International law cannot be neutralized or superceded by the agreements especially regarding the permanent status issues. The third principle is that the international community should provide the necessary support for the Middle East peace process, should ensure compliance by the parties with the agreements reached and should push for the implementation of those agreements in good faith.

Based upon these principles and the evaluation of the actual situation on the ground, the Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations has succeeded in maintaining and reaffirming all the United Nations resolutions relevant to all aspects of the question of Palestine including Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, natural resources, self-determination etc.; as well as keeping the United Nations working mechanisms in relation to Palestine including the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the DPI programs on Palestine.

The position of the United States (and of course Israel), on the other hand, continues to be that there is a peace process now and that the two sides are engaged in face-to-face negotiations and hence they oppose any action taken by the United Nations, whether by the Security Council or the General Assembly. Furthermore, they have requested that all political resolutions cease to be presented, and instead they attempted to present an alternative resolution giving it all kinds of different adjectives like early or positive. We have rejected any attempt at giving this resolution a different status or introducing new concept for dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Failing in those attempts, they have tried to reduce the number of resolutions. What we have accepted after 1993 is to review and revise the number and language of the resolutions, while maintaining the substance and fundamental principles.

Furthermore, the Palestinian delegation has opposed all attempts by the US, the dominant power at the Security Council, to de-link the Council from the situation in the Middle East and to delegitimize Palestinian attempts to seek redress from the Council following Israeli violations of both international law and the agreements signed between the two sides. In fact, since the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference the Security Council has adopted 4 relevant resolutions, 2 on deportations, resolution 904(1994) on the massacre that took place in Al-Khalil and resolution 1073(1996) on Jerusalem after the opening of the tunnel.

The real escalation of our position at the United Nations became clear with the Israeli government decision to construct a new settlement in Jabal Abu-Ghiem. The Arab Group at the United Nations decided to react immediately and initiated consultations with all the members of the Security Council in an effort to prevent the materialization of that decision. On 7 March 1997 the US vetoed a draft resolution that was presented by the four European members of the Security Council (France, UK, Sweden and Portugal), by itself is an important political development. The same vetoed resolution was adopted overwhelmingly in a resumed session of the General Assembly (12-13 March 1997). Then the Arab Group decided upon the request of Palestine to go for a rare and difficult procedure after the second US veto on 21 March 1997. This procedure involved the convening of an Emergency Special Session in accordance with GA resolution 377(V) of 1950, entitled "Uniting for Peace". For the first time in fifteen years, the General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session on 24 and 25 of April 1997 to consider the "Illegal Israeli Actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory". From the start, the Palestinian delegation clearly set out an incremental strategy that involved four elements: reiteration of established U.N. positions regarding Jerusalem and settlements; moving towards collective measures by Member States; reiteration of support for the peace process and the agreements reached; and establishment of a practical mechanism for follow up.

This strategy was achieved successfully through the adoption of resolutions that contained those four elements, as well as through the resumption of the Emergency Special Session for three times, the last time was on 17 March 1998. The consistency of this incremental strategy was obvious in the content of the resolutions adopted during the different sessions (ES-10/2 on 25 April 1997; ES-10/3 on 15 July 1998; ES-10/4 on 13 November 1998 and ES-10/5 on 17 March 1998), and the seriousness of implementing the follow up mechanism promptly and strongly, which by itself represents an effective way of confronting persistent illegal Israeli actions.

The follow up mechanism, now, consists of three elements: the decision by the General Assembly that, in case of continuous lack of compliance by Israel, the occupying power, with the provisions of the resolutions, it shall reconsider the situation with a view to making further appropriate recommendations to Member States in accordance with its resolution 377A(V) of 3 November 1950; the second element is the recommendation that the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention convene a conference on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect in accordance with common article 1; the third element is the recommendation to the Swiss Government, in its capacity as depository of the convention, to undertake the necessary steps, including the convening of a meeting of experts, in order to follow up on the above recommendation.