H.E. Mr. Zahir Tanin
Head of the Delegation
Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you, once again, to the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, under the theme “Strengthening the support by African States for a just and lasting solution of the question of Jerusalem.”
At the outset, allow me to reiterate our Committee’s sincere appreciation to His Excellency Mr. Taïb Fassi Fihri, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morocco, for the decision of the Moroccan Government to host this important Meeting. Our Committee highly appreciates the role of His Majesty King Mohammed VI as the Chair of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the efforts to preserve the Islamic heritage in Jerusalem. We also highly value His Majesty’s leadership in providing humanitarian and other vital support to the Palestinian people. We, therefore, are grateful to be able to hold our Meeting on Jerusalem here in Rabat. We also appreciate Morocco’s participation in our Committee’s activities as an active Observer.
Our Committee was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975, with a mandate to promote the realization by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights. The General Assembly has defined those inalienable rights as the right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty, and the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced and uprooted. In its political advocacy role, the Committee keeps the international community abreast of the various aspects of the question of Palestine through its annual programme of activities at United Nations Headquarters and worldwide, including the holding of international meetings and conferences such as this African Meeting.
We decided to focus the deliberations of this Meeting on the question of Jerusalem, which is a key element in the Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations. The issue is highly sensitive in every aspect. Leaving it unresolved would undermine ultimate success in the negotiations to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace or a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Last October, an important conference, the Al-Quds International Forum, was held here in Rabat. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarized in his message to the conference the position of the United Nations emphasizing that Jerusalem was a core issue that had to be resolved through negotiations, along with all other core issues. He stressed that the international community did not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, which remained part of the occupied Palestinian territory subject to the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention. If peace was to be achieved, he said, the goal had to be for Jerusalem to be the capital of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all, which was the road to the fulfillment of both the vision of Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Our Committee fully aligns itself with this important position of the international community on the status of Jerusalem. It repeatedly expressed alarm about Israel’s settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, as well as demolitions of Palestinian homes, evictions, land expropriation and residency rights revocations. The most recent example is the approval by a Jerusalem planning body for a plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in the Al-Bustan area of the Silwan neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city to make room for an Israeli tourist centre. Such actions constitute clear violations of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. East Jerusalem is occupied territory as is the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Committee calls on the High Contracting Parties to the Convention to act against those violations by Israel, a High Contracting Party herself, as stipulated in Article 1 of the Convention, which obliges the High Contracting Parties to undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the Convention. The Geneva Conventions lay down crucial principles of international humanitarian law that apply to all conflict situations. Their persistent violation by one party only serves to undermine the effectiveness of the international legal system and may have serious consequences for international peace and security. The Committee also recalls that Security Council resolution 252 (1968) considered that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem, are invalid and cannot change that status,” the position repeated in many subsequent resolutions.
Our Committee’s position is that any agreement that does not encompass making East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian State will not lead to sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. A negotiated agreement on the status of Jerusalem should include internationally guaranteed provisions aimed at ensuring the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and nationalities.
With regard to the rest of the occupied West Bank, illegal settlement activity continues in spite of the temporary moratorium on new construction declared by Israel, based on approvals issued prior to the moratorium. Although cautiously welcomed internationally as a step in the right direction, the announced moratorium of settlement expansion was not considered sufficient for creating for a climate conducive to conducting negotiations on all permanent status issues. A central concern has always been that East Jerusalem had been explicitly excluded from the moratorium, which has been proven by the worrisome recent developments in the City.
Our Committee would like to remind Israel, the occupying Power, that the presence of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law. All of the West Bank land as determined by the pre-1967 demarcation lines is to become the future Palestinian State’s territory, and any modification to this principle can only be made through agreements between the parties.
The Committee has repeatedly denounced the ongoing construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, with all its adversary effects on the Palestinian population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has called upon Israel to cease any further construction and dismantle the wall in line with the ICJ Advisory Opinion. Israel is obliged to make reparations to the Palestinian population for all damage caused by this construction.
With regard to the situation in the Gaza Strip, the Committee is of the view that the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel, the occupying Power, amounts to collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there. Our Committee notes with great concern that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has been steadily worsening, exacerbated by the Israeli military offensive of December 2008. We in the Committee, have repeatedly called for a lifting of the blockade and the opening of all crossings to allow for the long overdue reconstruction and rehabilitation work to begin. The situation in the Gaza Strip gained wide international attention through the events surrounding the Free Gaza Flotilla the objective of which was to delivering the much-needed humanitarian goods to the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel’s violent naval assault on the ships was widely condemned by the international community. We are of the view that it demands an impartial and credible investigation into the incident in international waters. At the same time, the international community calls for a full end of the Israeli blockade and the opening of all crossings, based on the comprehensive 2005 Access and Movement Agreement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Faced with very difficult circumstances of the occupation, the Palestinian Authority has been successfully carrying out its two-year State-building plan led by Prime Minister Fayyad, developing national institutions and infrastructure, improving the security apparatus and bringing investment to the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has launched a diplomatic initiative with a view to achieving international support for Palestinian statehood at the end of the scheduled implementation of the Fayyad Plan in August 2011. The Committee expresses full support for this diplomatic initiative and calls upon the entire world community, including all African States, to be prepared to recognize the State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders, including through a Security Council resolution, once statehood has been declared by the Palestinian leadership at an appropriate time. In particular, the Palestinian people and their supporters have a lot to benefit from the experience of African States in their quest for decolonization, independence and sovereignty, as well as their paths to economic independence and sustainable development. The role of the African Group at the United Nations in support of the Palestinian cause is also critical.
First and foremost, it is very important that the international community support the current proximity talks by encouraging the parties, Israel and the Palestinians, to take the steps necessary to built mutual trust and confidence in order to proceed to direct negotiations on all outstanding issues. Violence, incitement, settlement expansion and other provocative acts can easily compromise an already fragile state of the talks and need to be avoided at all costs. We all understand that time is of the essence. Losing the present opportunity might jeopardy the achievement of the two-State solution, and thus, the aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in their own, sovereign State, and of the Israeli people to live in peace and security in a prospering Middle East region.
For our part, the Committee will continue to carry out its mandate given by the General Assembly in order to bring an end to the decades of occupation and realize the two-State solution through the establishment of an independent, contiguous and viable State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, international law and previous agreements, supported by the Arab Peace Initiative.
Thank you very much.
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