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PRESS CONFERENCE BY PERMANENT OBSERVER OF PALESTINE

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

10 September 2001

His delegation’s aim in travelling to the recently-concluded Racism Conference in Durban was to contribute to its success, Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

At one point, he had even gone so far as to say that he would drop everything related to the Middle East, he said, if that had proved to be the breaking point, as long as progress had been reached on other important issues, such as slavery and reparations.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said his purpose in addressing correspondents today was to correct inaccuracies reported in the media concerning his delegation's position at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which held from 31 August to 8 September in Durban, South Africa.

He said that it had been stated that the Palestinian delegation had gone to Durban to once again raise the issue of "Zionism equals racism". That was nonsense, he emphasized, stating that "Zionism equals racism" had not even been in the text before the Conference began and the Palestinians were not there to raise that issue.

He noted that prior to the withdrawal of the United States from the Conference, no United States official had contacted the Palestinian delegation with the aim of exploring the Palestinian position. Whatever assumptions they were acting on, were made without any consultation with the Palestinian delegation. The result of the United States withdrawal was that the European Union and other Western countries were forced to take on the role that should have been played by the United States.

The most important achievement of the Conference, in his view, was the recognition of the need to deal with the Palestinian situation as a specific case -- the only specific case to be dealt with in both the Declaration and Programme of Action. The Conference had expressed concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. It also recognized the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State.

In addition, he continued, the Conference recognized the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urged all States to facilitate such returns. It also dealt with the situation in the Middle East and called for an end to violence and swift resumption of negotiations. The documents also contained two paragraphs on the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of which called on States to legislate to ensure respect for the Convention.

He hoped that the Palestinian case would be at the top of the agenda of the "Committee of 5" established to follow-up on the implementation of the Conference, he said.

What was not achieved, he said, was a clearer position in terms of Israeli policies and practices. The Western countries, generally, did not want any specific reference to Israel as an occupying power. The European Union had been clear in stating that it would walk out if there was any such reference. The Palestinians had taken the need for a successful Conference into account, and had compromised.

In an attempt to clear up some misconceptions reported in the press, he said that during the last minutes of the Conference, after the Palestinians had agreed to set aside the Middle East issue, there were some paragraphs of a generic nature in the text (paragraph 30 of the Declaration, paragraphs 3 and 179 of the Programme of Action). Syria had proposed to discuss three of those generic paragraphs on foreign occupation and the relationship between foreign occupation in general and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. None of those paragraphs mentioned Israel or the Middle East.

Then a motion of no-action was proposed and a vote took place on that motion, he continued. The motion passed and the discussion on those three paragraphs ended. That process took place after about half of the delegations had already left, he stressed. What had happened was completely improvised, and had taken place due to the dissatisfaction of some delegations with the positions taken by others.

In response to questions, Ambassador Al-Kidwa said that the United Nations must remain engaged in the situation in the Middle East, which could not be resolved without the involvement of the international community, and specifically the deployment of an international monitoring mechanism. The question remained as to why Security Council action was rejected.

He hoped that President George Bush of the United States, in his speech in the General Assembly's general debate, would address the situation in a balanced way. As to a possible meeting between the American President and Chairman Yasser Arafat, Mr. Al-Kidwa said while he expected such a meeting to take place, he had no knowledge of any plans for it to happen during their attendance at the debate.

As to his expectations of the upcoming meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Chairman Arafat, he said he was not sure of the mandate given to Mr. Peres. There remained several questions marks, and he believed there were those in Israel who hoped that the meetings would not succeed. The Palestinians would go to those meetings with the best of intentions.

Asked if the United States had "outfoxed" the Palestinians at the Conference, Mr. Al-Kidwa replied that the biggest loser was Israel, which had voluntarily isolated itself from the rest of the world. It was Israel that had rejected dialogue and discussion on the important issue of racism.

Israel and some of its friends, he noted, had been trying to blur the lines between real anti-Semitism on the one hand, and any serious criticism of Israel and its policies and practices against the Palestinian people on the other. That was negative and should be condemned -- the two should never be confused.

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