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Fourth Committee, Concluding Its Work, Approves Six Draft Resolutions, Including Request for ICJ Opinion on Israeli Occupation

Aug 06, 2023

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), completing its work for the main part of the General Assembly's seventy-seventh session, approved six draft resolutions plus one draft decision today, including texts that would renew the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

By a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 17 against, with 52 abstentions, it approved the draft resolution titled "Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" (document A/C.4/77/L.12/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would demand that Israel cease all measures that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people, including the killing and injuring of civilians, the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of civilians, the forced displacement of civilians and the transfer of its own population into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

It would also have the Assembly decide to request the International Court of Justice to render urgently an advisory opinion on the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

Israel's representative, in a general statement prior to the vote, said that calling for the Court's involvement would decimate any chances of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Urging delegations to vote against that text, he said such resolutions demonize Israel and exempt the Palestinians of any responsibility for their current situation.

Several delegates expressed concern about requesting an advisory opinion from the Court, with France's representative, speaking on behalf of several countries, stressing that such proposals should be thoughtfully discussed and consulted on with the United Nations membership in a timely manner.

Through the draft resolution titled "Assistance to Palestine refugees" (document A/C.4/77/L.10) — approved by a recorded vote of 165 in favour to 1 against (Israel), with 10 abstentions (Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States, Uruguay) — the Assembly would extend UNRWA's mandate until 30 June 2026. It would also call upon donors to strengthen their efforts to meet the Agency's anticipated needs.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine welcomed the approval of that text and others as a crucial message of hope to the people of Palestine. Spotlighting support among delegations for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, he nevertheless expressed regret that some States had wavered and emphasized that the broad majority remains committed to justice.

Through a related draft resolution titled "Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East" (A/C.4/77/L.9), the Assembly would decide to consider a gradual increase in the United Nations regular budget allocation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, to support expenses for operational costs related to executive and administrative management functions of the Agency. It was approved by a recorded vote of 164 in favour to 6 against (Canada, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, United States), with 5 abstentions (Burundi, Cameroon, Guatemala, Rwanda, Uruguay).

Among other texts, the Committee approved a draft resolution on "Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues" (document A/C.4/77/L.11), by a recorded vote of 160 in favour to 7 against (Canada, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, United States), with 7 abstentions (Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Guatemala, Rwanda, South Sudan, Togo). Its terms would have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to take appropriate steps, in consultation with the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, to protect Arab property, assets and property rights in Israel. It would also urge the Palestinian and Israeli sides to deal with the question of Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues within the framework of final-status peace negotiations.

A draft resolution titled "The occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.13) was approved by a recorded vote of 148 in favour to 3 against (Israel, Liberia, United States), with 22 abstentions. By its terms, the Assembly would call upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with relevant resolutions on the Syrian Golan, in particular Security Council resolution 497 (1981). It would also call upon Israel to desist from changing the Syrian Golan's physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status, and to desist in particular from the establishment of settlements.

By a recorded vote of 150 in favour to 8 against (Canada, Hungary, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, United States), with 14 abstentions, the Committee approved the draft resolution titled "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.14). By its terms, the Assembly would reiterate its demand for the immediate and complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. It would also reiterate its call for the prevention of all acts of violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers, and call for accountability for the illegal actions perpetrated by Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Finally, acting without a vote, the Committee also approved a draft decision on its programme of work for the seventy-eighth session, with several delegates taking the floor to discuss whether the Committee should amend its working methods in light of lessons learned during the COVID‑19 pandemic.

In concluding remarks, Committee Chair Mohamed Al Hassan (Oman) noted that the Committee approved 34 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions during the main session, which contained 26 formal meetings.

Also delivering general statements and explanations of position concerning the draft resolutions were representatives of Australia, United States, Uruguay, Singapore, Ecuador, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Japan, Kenya, Austria, Iran, China, United Kingdom and Timor-Leste.

Making general statements concerning the draft decision were representatives of the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Uruguay, Algeria, Nicaragua, El Salvador, United Kingdom and Egypt.

Representatives of South Africa, Indonesia, Cuba and Namibia presented the draft resolutions for action.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene in 2023 at a date and time to be announced, to take up the report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and to elect its Bureau for the General Assembly's seventy-eighth session.

Action on Draft Resolutions

The Committee first took up a series of draft resolutions (documents A/C.4/77/L.9-L.11) relating to "Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East" (L.9), "Assistance to Palestine Refugees" (L.10) and "Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues" (L.11).

The representative of South Africa, introducing those texts with Indonesia, said they are based on resolutions adopted by the Assembly at its seventy-sixth session, with relevant updates. They reaffirm the rights of Palestine refugees, as well as the international community's long-standing support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The most significant update to "L.10" is the decision to renew UNRWA's mandate. It also reiterates a call to donors to continue to contribute to the Agency and to increase their contributions.

The representative of Indonesia added that "L.9" reaffirms that UNRWA's work remains crucial against a backdrop of serious economic deterioration in the region. It appeals to donors to close the funding gap to allow the Agency to continue its programme and avoid the serious repercussions of the potential suspension of its activities. Turning to "L.11", he noted that it reaffirms Palestine refugees are entitled to income from their property.

The representative of Namibia then introduced the draft resolution titled "Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian people in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem" (document A/C.4/77/L.12), saying that it has been nearly 20 years since the General Assembly last asked the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion regarding the Palestinian question. In that span of time, the situation has only worsened. Requesting an advisory opinion is not a controversial or confrontational response to a deplorable situation, but rather a peaceful, civilized and legal initiative to allow the Court to pronounce itself on this matter.

The representative of Cuba, introducing the draft resolution titled "The occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.13), said it expresses the Assembly's deep concern over that situation, which dates back to 1967. Introducing the draft resolution titled "Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.14), he said it underscores the need to put an end to settlement activities and the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians.

The Secretary of the Committee delivered an oral statement pertaining to operative paragraph 16bis of "L.9", saying that the text, if adopted by the Assembly, would entail no programme budgetary implications in the Secretariat's programme budget for 2023. However, due to the need for more internal consultations, the Secretariat cannot provide estimates for additional resource requirements for 2024 and subsequent years.

The Committee then moved to take action on the UNRWA-related drafts.

It first approved the draft resolution "Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East" (document A/C.4/77/L.9) by a recorded vote of 164 in favour to 6 against (Canada, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, United States), with 5 abstentions (Burundi, Cameroon, Guatemala, Rwanda, Uruguay).

It then approved the draft resolution "Assistance to Palestine refugees" (document A/C.4/77/L.10), by a recorded vote of 165 in favour to 1 against (Israel), with 10 abstentions (Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States, Uruguay).

Next, it approved the draft resolution on "Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues" (document A/C.4/77/L.11), by a recorded vote of 160 in favour to 7 against (Canada, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, United States), with 7 abstentions (Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Guatemala, Rwanda, South Sudan, Togo).

The representative of Australia, speaking in explanation of position, said her delegation voted in favour of "L.9" in recognition of UNRWA's vital work. Her country is doubling its contribution to the Agency to $A20 million, she said, adding however that that does not represent an endorsement of the proposal to increase the regular budget allocation to UNRWA. Turning to "L.11", she noted that her country supported the resolution because "no one should be arbitrarily deprived of their property".

The Committee then took up draft resolutions relating to Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories. Those were titled "Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" (document A/C.4/77/L.12/Rev.1), "The occupied Syrian Golan (document A/C.4/77/L.13) and "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.14).

The representative of Israel, making a general statement on all three drafts, said their only purpose is to demonize Israel and exempt the Palestinians of any responsibility of their current situation. Recalling that Israel signed four peace agreements with other States in the last two years, and that Israelis pray for peace three times a day, he said that involving the International Court of Justice will decimate any chances of reconciliation. Noting the "unilateral approach of the resolutions", he urged delegates to vote against them.

The representative of the United States said there are no short cuts to the two-State solution and there is nothing in the package of draft resolutions before the Committee that will ensure this. Calling on all Member States to vote against this package of counterproductive resolutions, he said his country will support the UNRWA budget through voluntary contributions, and urged the Agency to uphold its commitment to neutrality, impartiality and humanity.

The Committee approved the draft resolution "Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" (document A/C.4/77/L.12/Rev.1) by a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 17 against, with 52 abstentions.

It then approved the draft resolution "The occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.13) by a recorded vote of 148 in favour to 3 against (Liberia, Israel, United States), with 22 abstentions.

Next, it approved the draft resolution "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan" (document A/C.4/77/L.14) by a recorded vote of 150 in favour to 8 against (Canada, Hungary, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, United States), with 14 abstentions.

The representative of Uruguay, making a general statement after the vote, disassociated himself from operative paragraph 17bis of "L.12/Rev.1", explaining that while advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice are valuable for the international community, in this instance it would be counterproductive and add an unnecessary element of tension.

The representative of France, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, stressed the need for language on Jerusalem's holy sites to reflect their importance and historical significance for the three monotheistic religions. The future choice of language may affect future support for these texts. He added that proposals to request advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice should be thoroughly discussed and consulted on with the United Nations membership in a timely manner.

The representative of Australia said her delegation voted against "L.12" because it does not support a referral to the International Court of Justice. Doing so will not help bring the parties together for negotiations, she said, adding that advisory opinions should not be used to settle bilateral disputes. On "L.14", she said Australia voted in favour as Israeli settlements remain an obstacle to peace.

The representative of Singapore, which voted in favour of "L.12/Rev.1", expressed reservations on operative paragraph 18, saying it was not appropriate to involve the Court in this manner. Drawing attention to the lack of time to properly consider the matter, he added that references to Haram al Sharif should in fact read Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif to reflect the site's shared and complex history.

The representative of Ecuador said his delegation abstained on "L.12/Rev.1" due to the recent inclusion of new language pertaining to an advisory opinion. That language was not subject to consultations, he said, spotlighting also the lack of time to analyse it.

The representative of Liechtenstein noted that the request for an advisory opinion was inserted into "L.12/Rev.1" with little notice and without consultation of Committee members as a whole, even though it has ramifications that go far beyond the conflict in the Middle East. The request would have been strengthened by the collective wisdom of a larger group of Member States, particularly already supportive of its aims, he said.

The representative of New Zealand echoed the concern regarding "L.12/Rev.1" and while reaffirming that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory are a violation of international law, added that his delegation abstained as the text was not circulated in time for consideration.

The representative of Japan, which abstained on "L.12/Rev.1", acknowledged the Palestinians’ desire to explore any possible avenue, given the dire situation on the ground. However, it is necessary to consider which approach is most appropriate to achieve peace in the Middle East.

The representative of Kenya said that while his delegation voted in favour of "L.12/Rev.1", it dissociates itself from operating paragraph 18 as it is too prescriptive and pre‑emptive of the proposed International Court of Justice process. Rather than increasing the chances for negotiations, it risks creating another barrier, he said.

The representative of Austria, underscoring the need for language to reflect the importance and historical significance of the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions, expressed regret about the manner in which the proposal for an advisory opinion was included in this resolution.

The representative of Iran, delivering a general statement, welcomed the widespread support among delegates for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and for holding the occupying regime accountable. Support for the Israeli regime by certain powers has prevented the international community from finding a just solution to the crisis, he added.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the reaffirmation of the rights of Palestine refugee and support to UNRWA sends a crucial message of hope. Spotlighting the support for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, he expressed regret that some States had wavered, adding that the broad majority of Member States remain committed to justice for the Palestinian people. "This overwhelming support is also the clearest answer to the false, libellous statements that have been made in this Committee by the Israeli representative", he added.

The representative of China, whose delegation voted in favour of three resolutions, said that when considering an advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice must abide strictly by the United Nations Charter.

The representative of the United Kingdom, which abstained, said that his delegation does not believe that referral to the International Court of Justice will bring the parties back to the negotiating table. It also disagreed with the language that refers to the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount site in purely Islamic terms.

The representative of Timor-Leste, which voted in favour of "L.12/Rev.1", dissociated himself from the substantial update made to the resolution, especially operative paragraph 18. Urgently requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice might undermine the peace, especially efforts to achieve a two‑State solution.

Finally, the Committee turned to its annual draft decision titled "Proposed programme of work and timetable of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) for the seventy‑eighth session of the General Assembly" (document A/C.4/77/L.15).

The representative of the United States, pointing to the efficiency of work methods adopted during the COVID‑19 pandemic, said it is worth considering ways to optimize "the time we are all in this room together" by combining thematic debates and allocating all action on draft decisions and resolutions to one or two days.

The representative of Argentina expressed concern over attempts to change working methods without sufficient discussion. Adaptations made during the COVID‑19 pandemic did not establish precedents for future sessions. He also underscored the importance of thematic debates and focusing specifically on decolonization.

The representative of Mexico said the draft decision under consideration reflects the experience of previous sessions and highlighted the value of a discussion among Member States to exchange points of view. What is needed is more dialogue and negotiation in the Committee, he said.

The representative of Cuba said the Committee's methods of work reflect the experience developed over the years. Efforts to transform these methods and reduce the importance of the Committee are inappropriate, and any changes should be done only by consensus and through substantive debates.

The representative of Uruguay said that while the pandemic proved that the Committee's methods of work can be perfected, revitalization cannot be undertaken at the expense of its work, which has very sensitive and specific modalities.

The representative of Algeria said that decolonization is the Committee's core issue and that changes to its working methods adopted during the pandemic cannot be considered a precedent.

The representative of Nicaragua said it is important to dedicate sufficient time to consider each item carefully and not limit or dilute topics that are extremely important.

The representative of El Salvador highlighted the importance of dedicating sufficient time for discussing working methods, adding that the General Assembly and its main Committees can, where there is sufficient political will, adapt to complex situations and respond in a timely way.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that revitalization of the General Assembly's work must be considered carefully instead of being "nodded through". He encouraged Member States not to take preconceived ideas into discussions and to think instead about ways to improve the Committee's work.

The representative of Egypt favoured preserving the current methods of work, saying that they take delegations with a limited number of personnel into account. He added that practices adopted during the pandemic were temporary and that there is no need to continue with them.

MOHAMED AL HASSAN (Oman), Committee Chair, taking note of the many divergent views, proposed revisiting this matter during the intersessional period in order to allow time for further consultations.

The Committee, acting without a vote, then approved the draft decision titled "Proposed programme of work and timetable of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) for the seventy‑eighth session of the General Assembly" (document A/C.4/77/L.15).

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED AL HASSAN (Oman), Committee Chair, delivered concluding remarks, saying that during this main session, the Committee approved 34 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions which will be referred to the General Assembly for adoption. It held 26 formal meetings, including one held jointly with the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), on topics ranging from decolonization and the peaceful uses of outer space to peacekeeping operations and the United Nations’ global communications efforts. He added that the Committee will reconvene in 2023 to take up the report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and to elect its Bureau for the Assembly's seventy‑eighth session.

The International Renewable Energy Agency, United Nations Statistics Division, World Bank and the World Health Organization released a report showing that basic energy access is lagging even as renewable energy use is growing, with 675 million people still without electricity and 2.3 billion still relying on harmful cooking fuels.