Vatican Statement to U.N. on Palestinian Question

«International Community Must Assist All Parties»

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NEW YORK, NOV. 6, 2003 ( Here is the statement delivered Monday by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, before the Fourth Committee on Agenda Item 83: «United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.»

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Mr. Chairman,

My Delegation, having carefully reviewed the Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, expresses its praise and appreciation for the work of the Agency during a time of crises and challenges.

My delegation wishes to take this occasion to remember the six employees of UNRWA who were tragically killed and to extend sincere condolences and heartfelt prayers to UNRWA and to the families of those six employees, who gave their lives in service to the Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Chairman, earlier speakers have spoken about the settlements, curfews, closures, assassinations, suicide bombers, as well as the impact of these events on Palestinians seeking employment, education, and access to medical care. The Catholic Church with its humanitarian and social institutions, namely, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine working in the region since 1949, Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, report daily on the trials of the people served. During the last three years, those agencies have found it increasingly difficult to carry out their mission.

With the recent breakdown of the cease-fire the level of violence has increased sharply, and Palestinian and Israeli civilians continue to be killed. The Holy See is convinced that the present conflict in the Middle East will find a lasting solution only when there are two independent and sovereign States living side by side in peace and security. To this end, questions concerning Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, for example, or the problem of setting territorial boundaries and defining the status of the most sacred places of the City of Jerusalem, need to be the subject of open dialogue and sincere negotiation.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation is of the firm conviction that the international community must assist all parties involved to realize that the occupation of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza and the terrorist attacks are triggering the unending spiral of acts of violence and retaliation which afflict both the Palestinians and the Israelis. An integral part of the current «road map» to peace clearly calls for a two State solution. It is incumbent upon both parties, assisted by the international community, to endorse the «road map» as a tool of negotiation and confidence building so that the issues of difference can be addressed and accords of resolution produced.

While these negotiations are now at the crossroads, we must continue to assist those for whom violence has become the norm for daily activity. The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, for its part, relies heavily on worldwide collaboration to ameliorate the suffering of many in the occupied territories. Supported by a number of humanitarian organizations from all over the world, it uses their moral and financial assistance to promote labor-intensive community development initiatives which counteract the unemployment in the occupied territories which runs at over 60%. The financial support of these collaborators provides for education — kindergarten through university.

Mr. Chairman, it is important to note that Bethlehem University since its founding in 1973 has graduated 7,617 students. In spite of closures, checkpoints and a devastated economy, young people are still seeking an education. The medical needs of the refugees are also served by the financial donations of the organizations noted above through the established church hospitals and clinics in the occupied territories. Life on the ground for the people must continue as the political process of the «road map» to peace has to move forward.

Beyond addressing these significant humanitarian needs noted above, Mr. Chairman, it is the hope of my Delegation that any solution found for the multifaceted problems of the region will include the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem. In light of the numerous incidents of violence and the rigors imposed by closures, the Holy See renews its consistent call for «internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience for its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities» (A/Res/ES 10-2, 5 May 1997). Current levels of violence have caused pilgrims to stay away from the Holy Land, thus imposing even more severe economic penalties on all the people of the region, besides hindering the right of people from all over the world to visit and pray at the religious sites. My Delegation also notes that the local population does not have free access to their shrines and holy places.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation would express the fervent hope that a climate of cooperation and friendship will allow us to deal effectively with other difficulties that the entire population in the Holy Land face on a daily basis. Many of these problems, such as the isolation and suffering of various communities, the dwindling of the Christian population due to emigration caused by harsh living conditions, lack of access to holy shrines and sites, are in some way connected to the current conflict, but that should not discourage us from seeking possible remedies, from working now to meet the challenges.

As members of the family of nations, we must continue to work for the success of every genuine effort to bring peace to the Holy Land. Only with a just and lasting peace — not imposed but secured through negotiation — will legitimate aspirations of the people of this Land be fulfilled. Only then will the Holy Land see the possibility of a bright new future, no longer dissipated by rivalry and conflict, but firmly based on understanding and cooperation for the good of all. The outcome depends greatly on the courageous readiness of those responsible for the destiny of this part of the world to move to new attitudes of compromise and compliance with the demands of justice.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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