Highlights 

·Â Â Â  Commission on the Status of Women Adopts Resolution on Palestinian Women: The 44th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women of the Economic and Social Council convened at U.N. headquarters in New York from 28 February to 17 March 2000.  The session coincided with the occasion of International Women’s Day, held annually on 8 March.

The Commission convened in the form of a preparatory committee for an upcoming General Assembly special session, entitled “Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century,” which is to be held from 5 to 9 June 2000.  It is hoped that the session will convene at a high level of participants, necessary for promoting concrete and action-oriented recommendations and a renewed commitment towards full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the 4th World Conference on Women in 1995.

            The delegation of Palestine attending the preparatory committee consisted of 3 participants.  Among the many important issues regarding women that were discussed at the meeting, of primary concern to the Palestinian delegation was the resolution entitled The Situation of and Assistance to Palestinian Women. The report of the Secretary-General to the Commission contained a section briefly discussing the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women.  In this respect, the resolution reflected some of the issues highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, as well as current circumstances regarding the socioeconomic conditions of Palestinian women.  The resolution was adopted on 2 March 2000 by a vote of 36 in favor, 1 against, and 0 abstentions. (The Commission consists of 45 members.  Israel is not a member of the Commission.  The members not voting were either absent or in arrears and therefore could not vote.)

The important paragraphs of the resolution included, inter alia, the following two operative paragraphs:

“Reaffirms that the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development planning of their society”

“Urges Member States, financial organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and other relevant institutions to intensify their efforts to provide financial and technical assistance to Palestinian women, especially during the transitional period”

The statement made by the delegation of Palestine emphasized the need to achieve further progress in the advancement and empowerment of women since the Beijing Conference, drawing attention to continuing obstacles worldwide such as persistent gender discrimination, poverty, illiteracy, and violence against women, including as a result of aggression, armed conflict, ethnic cleansing, and foreign occupation.   The many difficulties and obstacles created for Palestinian women by the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory were enumerated as well. Further, the statement stressed the importance of continued assistance to Palestinian women towards their advancement, until they can “join the ranks of their sisters around the world in daily efforts for advancement, development, and equality in their Independent State of Palestine.”

·Â Â Â  Vatican and PLO Agreement on Church Rights in the Holy Land and Jerusalem: On 15 February 2000, officials representing the Vatican and the PLO signed the “Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization” at Vatican City following a meeting between Pope John Paul II and President Arafat.  This important agreement grew out of the special relationship and the common interests of the two parties, including Christian religious sites in the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The agreement calls for, inter alia, “a peaceful solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which would realize the inalienable national legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

The preamble of the agreement also contains specific references to Jerusalem, “declaring that an equitable solution for the issue of Jerusalem, based on international resolutions, is fundamental for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and that unilateral decisions and actions altering the specific character and status of Jerusalem are morally and legally unacceptable”. As a result, the agreement calls for “a special statute for Jerusalem, internationally guaranteed, which should safeguard the following: (a) Freedom of religion and conscience for all. (b) The equality before the law of the three monotheistic religions and their institutions and followers in the City. (c) The proper identity and sacred character of the City and its universally significant, religious and cultural heritage. (d) The Holy Places, the freedom of access to them and of worship in them. (e) The regime of “status quo” in those Holy Places where it applies.”

  After the preamble, the document contains 12 articles upon which the two parties agreed.  Included among the articles are those articulating various commitments by the parties and the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land in carrying out “her functions and traditions, such as those that are spiritual, religious, moral, charitable, educational and cultural.”  Further, in this regard, it is significant that article 6 of the agreement clarifies that “the PLO recognizes the rights of the Catholic Church in economic, legal and fiscal matters; these rights being exercised in harmony with the laws of the Palestinian authorities in these fields.”  The agreement was welcomed widely by both the Catholic Church and the Palestinian people, and it is viewed as another positive element in the longstanding cooperative and fraternal relationship between the two sides