Question of Palestine home
19 September 2000
nd plenary meeting
Tuesday, 19 September 2000, 10 a.m.
: Mr. Holkeri..............................(Finland)
The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m.
Agenda item 9
Armed conflict and tensions persist in many parts of the world. In the Middle East we must continue to focus our attention on the core of the conflict, namely, the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people to secure their inalienable rights to self-determination and sovereign statehood in their own homeland, with Jerusalem as its capital. In this context, my delegation commends the Palestinian leaders for their statesmanlike approach. They have demonstrated their commitment to peace through the decision to share the city of Jerusalem, while remaining committed to their national rights, in order to reach a compromise. Hence, it behoves Israel to make a similar compromise so that a final settlement can be achieved. The withdrawal of Israel last June from southern Lebanon, following more than two decades of occupation, has finally restored the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries. My delegation also hopes for a resumption of the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, based on the Madrid peace formula.
interpretation from Arabic
Similarly the Middle East question is foremost in our priority concerns. An endeavour to solve this question was launched but it faced obstacles and impediments that prevented the attainment of the much-sought-after peace based on legitimate international resolutions, particularly Security Council resolutions
, which were the foundations of the peace process. The Arabs consider peace their strategic option, yet a comprehensive peace is still beyond reach, owing to Israeli intransigence, inflexibility and disregard of the basic rights of the Arab nation. This intransigence was an impediment to peace on the Syrian-Lebanese track. Israel’s refusal to withdraw to the 4 June 1967 borders did not meet the minimum conditions placed by the Syrian Arab Republic, consistent with United Nations resolutions. Simply because of a few metres Israel wasted a rare chance for peace.
The situation on the Palestinian track, which is the core and crux of the dispute in the region, is no better. At the Camp David summit the Government of Israel proved that it was captive to the extremist wing of its people and that it was not mature enough to take the brave decision of bringing to an end a conflict that has lasted for half a century. Moreover, Israel’s insistence on the occupation of East Jerusalem is provocative to the feelings of millions of Muslims and Christians throughout the world. Israel must abide by Security Council resolution 242 (1967), on the basis of which the peace process was launched and which calls for its withdrawal from all Arab lands to the borders of 4 June 1967. Furthermore, the conflict will not come to an end without solving the question of Palestinian refugees, in accordance with
General Assembly resolution 194 (III)
This leads to the question of Israeli settlements in occupied Arab territories. These settlements are time bombs standing in the way of any resolution to the conflict. Extremist Zionists planted these settlements to block any peaceful solution, in contradiction of numerous General Assembly and Security Council resolutions that explicitly declare them illegitimate. The State of Qatar, declaring its full support of the legitimate Arab demands on the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian tracks, hopes that the voice of reason, love and peace will eventually prevail, that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East will be achieved, and that an independent Palestinian state, ruling over all Palestinian national territory with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, will be established. The United States of America, whose efforts in the peace process are appreciated, is called upon more than at any time in the past, to exert pressure on Israel to respond to the challenges of peace and not miss this historic opportunity as a result of narrow, short-lived ambitions; the alternative to the peace process is too dangerous for international peace and security, and could lead us all into a maze whose outcome would be known only to God.
interpretation from Arabic
): At the outset allow me to convey to Mr. Holkeri our congratulations on his election as President of this session of the General Assembly, expressing our full confidence in him and wishing him every possible success. This session has special importance for Palestine and we hope that during its proceedings and under his leadership historic steps will be taken in our favour. I should also like to thank His Excellency Mr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the fifty-fourth session, a fighter for freedom and a fighter for peace, for his excellent leadership during the course of the past year. I would be remiss if I failed to seize the opportunity to express our special thanks to Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for his effective leadership and for his special interest in the situation in the Middle East and the peace process there.
As we meet in the wake of the Millennium Summit, it is incumbent upon us to seek to build upon its outcome beginning with implementing the Millennium Declaration and adopting it as a guide for our work in the next era. This should be the case not only with regard to globalization and future social and economic issues, but also with regard to one of the main tasks not fully achieved during the past era
namely, the achievement of self-determination by peoples under colonial domination and foreign occupation. That task will not be fully achieved until Israeli occupation comes to an end and the Palestinian State has been established in accordance with international legitimacy. For us this is the step necessary to place ourselves side by side with other member States on the road to development, democracy and prosperity and so that we may be allowed to carry our small share of responsibility towards the international community and its future tasks.
As President Yasser Arafat mentioned in his address to the Millennium Summit, the Palestine Central Council met to consider the situation as the agreed date between the Palestinian and Israeli sides for reaching a final status agreement, 13 September 2000, approached; that date was also the deadline of the agreed-upon extension of the five-year interim period that originally ended on 4 May 1999. The Palestine Central Council addressed this situation with a high level of responsibility towards our people and towards the peace process and took a difficult decision seeking a balance between the natural and historic rights of the Palestinian people to their State, based on the partition
resolution 181 (II)
and in accordance with the Declaration of Independence of 1988 and our right to establish this State at the end of the interim period, on the one hand, and preserving what some have called the last chance for the peace process and for reaching an agreement between the two sides through an additional extension and the decision to continue the negotiations for the next five or six weeks on the other. The Council thus decided to delay the establishment of the State and at the same time mandated the Executive Committee and the presidency of the Palestine National Council and the Legislative Council to take the necessary steps in this regard, including completion of the constitutional declaration and laws for presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as the submission of an application for membership for the State of Palestine in the United Nations, followed by a report on these steps to the Central Council no later than 15 November 2000, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
That decision means first and foremost our desire and commitment to reach an agreement with the Israeli side if that side is truly ready for that. Secondly, it also means the agreement by the Palestinian side to postpone the establishment of the State, not only until the end of the transitional period and its extension, but until the end of the realistic opportunity for achieving a possible final agreement at the present time. We believe that no one can expect us to go beyond that and accept the continuation of the present transitional situation that is impossible to endure. We further believe that all States, including those that have advised us to postpone, will understand this and will thus be ready to provide the necessary support for our steps, including support for the application of Palestine for membership in the United Nations.
The assumption of power by the current Israeli Government was coupled with a chorus of positive voices that led to increased hope for rapid and honest implementation of the agreements signed by the two sides aimed at achieving a final agreement in the agreed time. We honestly wanted to believe this and dealt with that Government positively and with full commitment to the agreements. But the stubborn realities began to impose themselves on the ground, regardless of the wishes and the artificial positive voices. The current Government did not implement any of the provisions of these agreements except those provisions that the former Government had explicitly committed itself to in implementation of the Wye River Memorandum of October 1998. This Government has not carried out one centimetre of redeployment more than Mr. Netanyahu had committed himself to, and it has also failed to carry out the third redeployment. Illegal settlements, which are destructive to the peace process, have continued, even in Jabal Abu Ghneim, which was the reason the General Assembly convened its tenth emergency special session. A number of other illegal measures and practices have also continued, creating a negative and tense climate. Amidst all of that, final status negotiations started and we witnessed Israeli foot-dragging and procrastination that we could not understand and that has led to more doubts and tension.
Then came the Camp David Summit, for which thorough preparation was needed before being convened, something that was not accepted by the Israeli side. Despite everything, the Summit represented a very important opportunity to move into a new, serious phase of negotiations through the personal involvement of President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State and the rest of his team. We highly appreciate all the efforts made for the success of the Summit. For our part, we spared no effort in the same direction. However, we believe that Israel’s lack of readiness to comply with the terms of reference of the peace process prevented the success of such efforts.
In the wake of the Summit a campaign was launched by some parties and some biased media organizations to absolve the Israeli side of its responsibility and to place undue pressure on the Palestinian side. For example, some say that the Israeli side progressed from its original positions during the negotiations more than the Palestinian side. That is factually incorrect, in addition to being the wrong yardstick to apply. It is incorrect because the Palestinian side has progressed from its original position more than the Israeli side, but that happened with the start of the peace process and the acceptance of the bases of such a process. The Palestinian side has accepted, despite the historic injustice, establishing its State in accordance with the partition plan, which gave us less than half of mandated Palestine, and has accepted as the basis for settlement Security Council resolution 242 (1967), which gives us less than a quarter of mandated Palestine. Is there a more momentous concession than this? Is it possible to forget that and only look at positions taken during the Camp David negotiations, regardless of the past?
It is also the wrong yardstick to apply because the appropriate yardstick should be the closeness of the sides to the agreed basis of the peace process and their commitment to Security Council resolution 242 (1967), the implementation of which is the goal of the peace process, and not the extent of their movement from original positions, especially if such positions were illegal and irrational. Needless to say, the Palestinian side has fully adhered to this resolution and has never attempted to circumvent it, whereas the Israeli side has never stopped pursuing positions violating that resolution and aiming to usurp more and more Palestinian land and rights.
Let us have another look at the positions of the parties on some specific issues, so that all may be aware of the details of the situation. With regard to Jerusalem, the first
and the third of the holy sanctuaries and the cradle of Jesus Christ, the other side claims that it made substantial concessions while the Palestinians did not. It also claims that we have not shown enough sensitivity towards the holy sites pertaining to Judaism. All of this is incorrect. The signed agreements state that Jerusalem will be an issue for negotiation, which means the whole of Jerusalem — occupied East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, which is under de facto Israeli control. For our part, we have accepted that West Jerusalem shall be under Israeli sovereignty and become the capital of Israel. We have demanded the end of the occupation of East Jerusalem so that it may come under Palestinian sovereignty and be the capital of Palestine. We have accepted that the city shall be open, and have accepted all kinds of guarantees for freedom of conscience, worship and access to all holy places under Palestinian sovereignty. In return for such flexibility, Israel is not satisfied with recognized sovereignty over West Jerusalem, but seeks also to usurp parts of occupied East Jerusalem.
With regard to the Jewish holy places, we fully respect their sacredness, and Islam recognizes the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and all their prophets. Thus, we have shown every possible flexibility, even with regard to those places on lands in occupied East Jerusalem, to which resolution 242 (1967) is applicable. We have accepted that the Western Wall of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which is known to the Arabs and Muslims as Al-Buraq Wall and to the Israelis and Jews as the Wailing Wall, shall be placed under Israeli control, bearing in mind its sacredness to Judaism and consistent with the situation since the British mandate on Palestine. In return for our flexibility Israel not only seeks sovereignty over the Western Wall, but further challenges our sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif and seeks to maintain some form of sovereignty over it, something that will not be accepted by any Palestinian, Arab or Muslim leader, not now and not in the future.
We have recently taken a major additional step in this regard by indicating our readiness to accept a certain mechanism for ensuring that no excavations are conducted under Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or even our readiness to accept Muslim sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif through the Al-Quds Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). This represents the utmost that can be done in terms of dealing with an Arab and Muslim trust over Palestinian land.
With regard to another important issue, namely, Palestinian refugees and their rights, the Palestinian side has upheld their rights in accordance with international law, like any other refugees in the world, and in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, in particular resolution 194 (III), including their right to return and to compensation. At the same time, we have shown our readiness to accept specific implementation mechanisms to be agreed upon. In return for our flexibility, Israel refuses to recognize its responsibility for this human tragedy and refuses to recognize the rights of the refugees, including their right to return, and wants only to compensate them, and even that at the expense of others and not in its capacity as the party that seized their lands and properties. Yesterday the Assembly heard Israel’s spokesman repeat what has been said, attempting not only to deny Israel’s responsibility but also denying the individual property of the refugees, more than 5.5 million dunams of land, legal and full property of individuals. The Acting Foreign Minister attempted to put an end to that in an address to the Assembly.
The third important issue is that of settlements and borders. We have affirmed that settlements are illegal and must not be built on Palestinian lands. Furthermore, Israel must withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949, which are commonly known as the lines of 4 June 1967. At the same time, and in order to resolve some of the demographic problems illegally created by Israel, we have shown our readiness to accept changes in the border lines on the basis of full reciprocity. In return for such flexibility, Israel still attempts to appropriate more land and to annex other parts of occupied Palestinian territory. However, we generally feel, or at least hope, that the differences on this and the remaining issues are less sharp than the differences I indicated regarding the two previous ones, and it is hoped this might signify a real change in the Israeli position regarding all issues.
We have not lost hope yet. We are still committed to the peace process and to serious and continuous negotiations in the coming weeks. Yet this morning we were surprised to hear the spokesman of the Israeli Government announce that the negotiations are suspended. We hope that the Israeli positions are tactical and that the Israeli side will in the final analysis respect its commitment to the bases of the peace process. We want an agreement, an agreement that will remove us from the cycle of confrontation and that will carry forward both sides, and the entire region and its future generations, to a new era. Such an agreement must be balanced, reasonable and based on international law, the basis of the peace process. This requires a continuation of the necessary efforts and unbiased support of the two cosponsors of the peace process, particularly the United States of America, other concerned parties in the region, the European Union and interested parties throughout the world. We are ready and look forward to such a historic agreement between the two States, Palestine and Israel.
During the Millennium Summit much was said about the United Nations and its past and future role. We wish to add that the United Nations is indispensable when it comes to the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. We have always emphasized the permanent responsibility of the United Nations for the question of Palestine until it is effectively resolved in all its aspects, and while we always called for more United Nations involvement in the Middle East peace process, others have attempted to exclude and neutralize it. We are convinced that in the coming decisive period the role of the United Nations will become more important, no matter what the circumstances. If we were, God forbid, to arrive at a dead end despite all our strenuous efforts for the success of the peace process, then we would come to the United Nations and expect to receive its protection and support. We will work to obtain membership and to contribute to the resolutions of the United Nations, the established committees and the relevant programmes so that all might provide an additional boost for the achievement of our people’s legitimate rights, including their right to the establishment of their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital, after such a long period of trial and tribulation.
If our hope is fulfilled and we are successful in reaching a final agreement with our neighbours, then we expect that the need for the United Nations and its organs will be greater. The United Nations responsibility in all its forms will continue until the end of the implementation period and there will be a need to legitimize some aspects of the agreement and perhaps to complement them. There will also be a need for United Nations assistance during the implementation period with regard to many aspects, in particular with regard to Palestinian refugees, including the continuation of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. We will then propose the specific reactivation of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, which was established by resolution 194 (III) and is composed of the United States, France and Turkey, and the use of the records of the Commission related to land ownership in Palestine. These records were updated by the United Nations Secretariat, in cooperation with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and can now be used. In any case, the need for the United Nations will increase, and we call for preparedness for that eventuality.
There are other aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict that must be resolved in order for a comprehensive peace to be achieved in the region. In this context, we reaffirm the necessity of reactivating the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace process as well as the need for Israel to accept the principle of full withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Arab Golan to the lines of 4 June 1967. We declare our solidarity with our sister country, Syria, and support its just demands, including Israeli adherence to the terms of reference of the peace process. We also express our great happiness at the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. We congratulate the brotherly Lebanese people on the liberation of their territories and support their other demands regarding the achievement of peace between Lebanon and Israel. In this context, we affirm our agreement with regard to rejecting the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the need for them to return to their homes, and, until then, we expect them to benefit from normal living conditions.
With regard to Arab national security and the principle of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, we reaffirm the need for Israel to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and to put all its nuclear facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. We also support attempts aimed at establishing a region free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and believe this to be an essential condition for establishing a new reality in the region, which we all seek to achieve.
In the context of the wider Arab region, the suffering of the brotherly Iraqi people is still a source of real concern for us all. We call for a speedy end to their suffering. We also call for the total lifting of sanctions imposed on sisterly Libya and brotherly Sudan. We also call for the peaceful settlement of the issue of the three islands between the United Arab Emirates and Iran in a way that preserves the rights of the United Arab Emirates in these islands. We also express our happiness for the recent steps taken in Somalia and express our hope that the stability and reconciliation process will continue. We reaffirm the need for efforts to be made to resolve problems everywhere, including, inter alia, those of Cyprus, of the great African continent, particularly the Horn of Africa, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and of some of the surrounding countries. The resolution of such problems will represent an important contribution towards placing that continent on the road to development and progress.
Before concluding I must once again express our deep thanks to our brothers and friends everywhere, particularly to fraternal Arab countries, Islamic countries and non-aligned countries, as well as to all other friends for their principled and continuous support. Let this year be the year that will bring to an end the historical injustice that has befallen our people, and let it be the beginning of a new life in the Middle East for all States, peoples and future generations.
The meeting rose at 12.40 p.m