Expanding Settlements Threaten Viability of Future Palestinian State, Say Delegates, as Fourth Committee Concludes Debate on Illegal Practices

Israel's expanding settlements constituted blatant symbols of its occupation and threatened the viability of a prospective two-State solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today.

As it concluded its general debate on Israel's practices in occupied Arab territories, delegates condemned violence by both Israeli settlers and security forces. The representative of Bangladesh emphasized that continuing Israeli settlement construction and expansion, as well as the separation wall in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, had emerged as the most blatant symbols of the occupation and were increasingly identified as the biggest threats to the prospect of a viable two-State solution. Bangladesh regretted that Israeli authorities offered impunity to settlers resorting to indiscriminate violence against Palestinians, he added.

Lebanon's representative decried the use of excessive force by Israel's security forces, demanding: "Which security Israel is talking about when it continues to kill people?" Citing the expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, she pointed out that 463 houses had been built in Area C.

Also drawing attention to Area C was South Africa's representative, who expressed particular concern about its Bedouin community, who had been the most affected by home demolitions and who faced forcible transfer. He also pointed to the increase in cases of settler violence against Palestinians, and urged the Israeli authorities to take action against the perpetrators of such aggression.

Agreeing, Qatar's representative emphasized that discriminatory practices in the West Bank must end, and the law must be applied, including when Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians. The Secretary-General's report called for ending the expansion of settlements and any attempts to attribute legality to them, he pointed out.

Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, Saudi Arabia's representative said the Government of Israel must be held criminally responsible for its actions. For more than 50 years, "the Palestinian people have been caught between the rock of occupation and the hard place of international inaction", she emphasized.

In similar vein, Turkey's representative said the international community's inaction had not only aggravated the status of Palestinians, but had also resulted in deplorable consequences in the region and beyond. Palestinians must be able to sit at the negotiating table as the State of Palestine, on equal standing with Israel, she stressed.

Other speakers today included representatives of Sudan, Mozambique, Iran, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Morocco, Pakistan and Algeria.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Israel and Iran as well as the observer for the State of Palestine.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 November, to begin its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Background

Continuing its consideration of the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, the Committee had before it a number of related reports (documents A/71/352, A/71/315, A/71/321, A/71/355, A/71/364 and A/71/392. See Press Release GA/SPD/624 of 31 October for more information.)

Point of Order

The representative of Syria, speaking on a point of order, pointed out that mistakes had been made in the interpretation of his country's statement during the Committee's previous meeting. He called for careful interpretation in order to convey the correct meaning of the original text, and urged those in charge as well as the interpreters themselves to pay closer attention.

Statements

MANAL HASSAN RADWAN (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, expressed deep concern about the continuing and escalating violence by Israeli occupying forces, including violations of international humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions. Deploring Israel's unprecedented expansion of settlements and its demolition of homes in Jerusalem in order to alter that city's identity, she said such actions constituted ethnic cleansing and threatened chances for a two-State solution, blocking any prospect of a peace process. Reports before the Committee demonstrated that Israel had been violating fundamental human rights and had used disproportionate force against Palestinians, especially women and children, who were being tortured and exploited, she said.

For more than 50 years, she continued, "the Palestinian people have been caught between the rock of occupation and the hard place of international inaction". The Government of Israel must be held criminally responsible for its actions without delay, she emphasized. For 10 years, Israel had been maintaining a blockade against Gaza, and reports mentioned its serious consequences in terms of poverty and lack of opportunities for youth, whose unemployment rate stood at more than 65 per cent. The Arab Group welcomed the initiative by France calling for an international peace conference that would help to establish an international mechanism to end the occupation according to a determined timetable, she said. It also welcomed the decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization admitting that Al-Quds Al-Sharif had an Islamic legacy, an important point.

ABDULRAHMAN YAAQOB Y.A. AL-HAMADI (Qatar) described Israel's practices as part of an illegal policy to "isolate Palestinians behind the wall to choke their economy and exploit their natural resources". The Middle East peace process was threatened by settlement activities in the occupied territories, including Al-Quds Al-Sharif. The Secretary-General's report called for ending that expansion and any attempts to attribute legality to those settlements. Discriminatory practices in the West Bank must also end and the law must be applied, including with respect to settlers who attacked Palestinians, he emphasized. Israel's illegal practices also included its attempts to erase the Arab identity of Jerusalem and to change the city's demography as part of an escalating illegal policy leading to Judaization. Denouncing any aggression against Al Aqsa, he emphasized that people practising their religion there had a right to do so. Qatar also rejected Israel's illegal practices in the occupied Syrian Golan and condemned its exploitation of natural resources there, he added.

HASSAN IDRISS AHMED SALIH (Sudan) said the Special Committee's investigations demonstrated the escalation of violence and excessive use of force by Israeli security forces as well as the settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Such actions were in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and undermined the viability of a two-State solution, he said, describing the actions as "illegal colonial efforts". Expressing concern about forced displacement and the situation of detainees, including children held in Israeli detention facilities, he said "collective sanction" was taking place. It was also concerning that Israel continued to block humanitarian aid, he said, calling upon that country to withdraw fully from the occupied territories and to end its interference with international humanitarian assistance.

CAROLINE ZIADE (Lebanon), citing practices relating to settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, said 463 houses had been built in Zone C. Expressing regret over the situation of Palestinian detainees, she said Israel had more than 700 Palestinians in administrative detention at the moment. "Which security Israel is talking about when it continues to kill people?" she asked, decrying the use of excessive force by its security forces. She also drew attention to the worsening situation in the Gaza Strip, emphasizing the "very few" prospects for the future and the increasing rates of violence in the enclave.

ANTONIO GUMENDE (Mozambique) noted with deep concern the lack of improvement in the human rights situation of the Palestinian people and other Arabs in occupied territories. Israel's continuing actions, such as the expansion of settlements, demolition of homes and exploitation of natural resources, were contrary to international law and deserved full condemnation. Its continual destruction of infrastructure in the occupied territories that had led to an increase in the number of displaced people and refugees was one of the major obstacles to a two-State solution and lasting peace in the Middle East. Emphasizing that his country attached great importance to the role of the United Nations in the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, he called upon the parties concerned to do their utmost to reach a sustainable and mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict between them.

MAHLATSE MMINELE (South Africa) emphasized that after almost half a century, the situation on the ground could not be allowed to continue, noting that it was increasingly becoming an impediment to peace, security, stability and development in the Middle East. Expressing concern about the situation of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, he called upon Israel to respect the human rights of all and abide by the relevant norms of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Also voicing concern about Israel's ongoing settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said any further construction would seriously undermine prospects for a two-State solution and threaten the viability of a future Palestinian State. South Africa was particularly concerned about the Bedouin community in Area C, who had been the most affected by the demolitions and who faced forced transfer.

CEREN HANDE OZGUR (Turkey), reiterating his country's commitment to a democratic environment in the region, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the main challenge to its creation. The occupation was approaching its fiftieth year, yet Palestinians were still deprived of the right to freedom and a decent life. Settlement-expansion activities continued despite condemnations by the international community, as did attempts to undermine the sanctity of holy sites as well as the historic status of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. The international community's inaction had not only aggravated the status of Palestinians, but had also brought about deplorable consequences in the region and beyond. Palestinians must be able to sit at the negotiating table as the State of Palestine, on equal standing with Israel, he emphasized. The international community must uphold its responsibility to reach a negotiated settlement, in accordance with international law, a vision that required the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State within the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

TAREQ ISLAM (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the Special Committee continued to serve a critical purpose by keeping the Palestinian cause alive and relevant against the backdrop of armed conflict in different parts of the world. Continuing Israeli settlement construction and expansion, as well as the construction of the wall in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, had emerged as the most blatant symbols of the occupation and were increasingly identified as the biggest threats to the viability of a two-State solution. He expressed regret that Israeli authorities offered impunity to settlers resorting to indiscriminate violence against Palestinians. In addition, the land and sea blockade of Gaza constituted an egregious demonstration of collective punishment against 2 million people, purportedly in retaliation against certain individuals, he noted. Bangladesh supported the proposal to declare 2017 the International Year to End the Occupation in marking the fiftieth year of Israel's occupation.

GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran) expressed concern about the escalation of violence in the West Bank, the ongoing dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting from the continuing blockade and economic embargo and Israel's military aggression. "The illegal land and sea blockade of Gaza must be lifted and all crossing points must be opened promptly and unconditionally," he emphasized, adding that all practices that amounted to collective punishment must end. It was clear that all measures and activities by the Israeli regime in the Palestinian territory violated the Fourth Geneva Convention and various United Nations resolutions. Other issues of grave concern were the incessant extreme violence, terror and provocations by Israeli settlers and extremists, discrimination against Palestinians and lack of accountability in the justice system. "It is long overdue to end this abhorrent Israeli occupation, which has brought so much suffering and pain to the Palestinian people," he said, noting that it had contributed to the destabilization of regional peace and security.

PAK CHOL JIN (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said the Middle East peace process, including the two-State solution, was an urgent task to be completed without further delay. A number of initiatives had been undertaken to solve the deadlock, yet Israel's settlements continued to expand, he said, describing their expansion as the "cancer of the Middle East peace process". It was unfortunate that the United States ignored the unanimous will of the international community, and stood behind Israel, he said, adding that the policies and practices of those two countries had negatively affected the human rights situation of the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region.

MOHAMMED ATLASSI (Morocco), associating himself with the Arab Group, expressed regret that Israel's settlement-expansion policies were in breach of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, went against the grain of the peace process and undermined prospects for a two-State solution. The international community bore the primary responsibility to find an opening in the deadlock in negotiations, which had led to spiralling violence. It must make every effort find a negotiated solution, restore trust between the parties and establish the pillars of a viable and sustainable State of Palestine, in accordance with international resolutions and Arab peace initiatives, he said. Morocco commended the initiative by France calling for an international peace conference aimed at making every party assume its responsibility before time elapsed and opportunities for peace were lost.

SAIMA SAYED (Pakistan), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that Israel continued its policy of non-cooperation with the Special Committee, denying it access to investigate and verify the situation on the ground. New regulations on the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces were another grim example of the heavy-handed practices of the occupation forces, he said, noting that they were not consistent with international laws applicable to occupying military forces dealing with civilians. The Special Committee's report also mentioned a huge surge in the number of Palestinians detained on the basis of their activities on social media, she said, warning that such curbs on freedom of expression and opinion would only engender more violence and aggravate the sense of despondency among Palestinian youth. Lasting peace could only be achieved through political solutions, not through heavy-handed tactics and the use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians, she emphasized.

IDRISS BOUASSILA (Algeria), while welcoming the recommendations of the Special Committee, deplored the Israeli regime's activities, saying they undermined the peace process. Despite numerous calls by the international community, the occupation had continued through the displacement of civilians and the construction of a separation wall. "Israeli occupation is still expanding and causing a major obstacle to a two-State solution," he said, adding that it had exacerbated the suffering of Palestinians.

Right of Reply

The observer for the State of Palestine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the Special Committee's reports reflected the facts, and the occupying Power must comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention and end its cruel practices.The representative of Israel expressed regret that many of the speakers in attendance still refused to recognize her country after 68 years. The same people systematically undermined the basic rights of Jewish peoplehood and the legitimacy of Israel. She expressed hope that Palestinians would one day accept her country's repeated calls without preconditions. In response to the statement by Venezuela during the previous meeting, she pointed out that the Government of that country had banned freedom of speech and blocked humanitarian assistance. "I advise him to focus his attention on his country."

The representative of Iran described accusations by his counterpart from Israel as baseless, saying she was trying to divert attention away from her country's criminal policies and practices, including State terrorism, torture and kidnapping. "This regime has no respect for fundamental human rights principles," he added.

Source: United Nations

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