CEIRPP Convenes First Meeting of 2002: Focus on Situation in OPT

Annan: In Past 16 Months Situation on the Ground

Has Deteriorated to Unprecedented Levels

On 12 February 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) held its first meeting for the year 2002. The meeting was chaired by the U.N. Secretary-General, and began with the re-election of the Chairman of CEIRPP, Ambassador of Fall of Senegal, as well as the members of the Bureau of the Committee. At the meeting, the Committee also adopted its program of work for the year.

The Committee, it is to be recalled, was established by the General Assembly in 1975 and mandated to, inter alia, consider and recommend a program designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights. With the support of the Division for Palestinian Rights, the CEIRPP has convened numerous seminars and symposia on the question of Palestine and undertaken various other activities in fulfillment of its mandate, such as the establishment of an electronic database on Palestine, UNISPAL, and the modernization of the records of the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). (For a brief history and overview of the CEIRPP, please refer to the April 2000 issue of Palestine & The UN.)

Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., addressed the Committee on behalf of Palestine. In his statement, Ambassador Al-Kidwa briefly described the current tragic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including Jerusalem, due to the policies of the Israeli government and the practices and actions of the Israeli occupying forces. He also spoke about recent efforts at the U.N. to address the deterioration of the situation on the ground and in the region. In addition, he made a few remarks about the international community’s fight against international terrorism and Israeli attempts to exploit this agenda. The following are excerpts from the Ambassadors statement to the CEIRPP:

  • The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, is one marred daily by the incessant bloody Israeli military campaign being waged against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership since 28 September 2000. For over 16 months now, the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation have suffered countless violations of their human rights, war crimes and State terrorism at the hands of the Israeli occupying forces.

  • This has included killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, now totaling more than 875 martyrs; extrajudiciary executions; tens of thousands of injuries, many critical, due to the excessive and indiscriminate use of force of the Israeli forces; abductions; destruction of homes and properties; destruction of agricultural fields; destruction of roads; confiscation of more land; destruction of economic facilities; severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons and goods and widespread closures amounting to a virtual siege of the Palestinian territory and the socio-economic suffocation of the Palestinian people; and finally the ongoing siege of the president and leader of the Palestinian people, Yasser Arafat.

  • Clearly, Mr. Sharon’s government has no intention of observing any kind of cease-fire or calming the volatile situation on the ground and preventing its further deterioration. On the contrary, the policies and actions of the Israeli government definitely seek to incite and escalate the violence and intensify the crisis. These actions have reached an unprecedented criminal level aimed at not only destroying the Palestinian Authority and any potential for peace, but also destroying what is left of the Palestinian infrastructure in order to inflict maximum suffering and agony on the Palestinian people. Moreover, these actions are accelerating the dangerous slide of the whole region towards war and confrontation.

  • While we appreciate all that the international community has been doing in an effort to bring these Israeli attacks and policies to an end, I feel that more could have, and should have, been done. This has not been the case probably due to the despair and frustration at positions coming out of Washington, D.C. – positions which have effectively allowed Mr. Sharon and his government to escape the peace process, to thwart the existing agreements, to put aside and refuse implementation of the Mitchell recommendations, and finally to wage an all-out attack against the Palestinian Authority and its leaders.

  • At the United Nations, the membership has been trying to do something in all organs, particularly in the Security Council and the General Assembly. As you know, the Council was unfortunately blocked from taking action by 2 U.S. vetoes in 2001. But the General Assembly, including in its 10th emergency special session, tried to pick up the pieces and take some sort of action in this regard. Our people highly appreciate these efforts, as much as their appreciation for other important efforts such as the resumption of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the extremely important declaration issued by that Conference. We need to follow up on those important achievements and we need to increase the international pressure on the Israeli government in this regard. In doing so, we will always uphold the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine.

  • Internationally, we sadly feel that the common agenda of the international community to fight terrorist groups with global outreach is being undermined by attempts to change the agenda in service of narrow and often times illegitimate interests, including that of one State: Israel. We also feel that the use of military force alone, without dealing with the real grievances of people and without solving the countless injustices that abound, is tantamount to sowing the seeds for the next catastrophe. We believe it is not too late to undertake an objective and honest debate aimed at maintaining consensus in the international community on the basis of our common interest in fighting this menace.

  • We expect and trust that the Committee will, as usual, lead the work of the United Nations in the coming year in a way that will address the very serious challenges being faced by the Palestinian people. Although we are aware of the many difficulties ahead of us, we remain hopeful that our work here at the United Nations, guided always by longstanding principles firmly rooted in international law and resolutions of this organization, will eventually lead to justice for the Palestinian people in their historic quest for the exercise of their inalienable rights.

The Secretary-General’s presence at the CEIRPP meeting underscored the importance he attaches to the work of the Committee and Palestinian issues at the U.N., further reaffirming the crucial and historical role being played by the U.N. with regard to the question of Palestine and all efforts to resolve it. The Secretary-General also made a statement before the Committee, in which he emphasized this important role and the continuing responsibility of the U.N. both on the political front and in the field of providing assistance to the Palestinian people. He also stressed the steps needed for achieving a ceasefire between the two sides, reactivating the political process and the U.N. position and efforts in this connection, including the need to address the occupation itself and not only focus on security issues. In this regard, he emphasized the centrality of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace to any just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine. The following are excerpts from the Secretary-General’s statement before the CEIRPP:

  • In the past 16 months, the situation on the ground has deteriorated to unprecedented levels 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.

  • 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.

  • Making progress on security-related issues alone, with 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.

  • 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 the 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% 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

  • The U.N. Development Programme 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 U.N. Relief and Works Agency 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.

  • The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Terje Rod-Larsen has been actively involved in repeated efforts to defuse the crisis, re-start the peace process, and coordinate donor assistance to the Palestinian people …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".