The Committee has strongly condemned the violent attacks launched by the Israeli army against Gaza, which has already endured so much suffering. The Committee has also denounced just as strongly the indiscriminate rocket fire originating from Gaza. Never has peace been more essential for all the peoples of the region; yet, never has it seemed so far out of reach.
We are meeting here once again to mark the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, commemorated on the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations partition plan in 1947. The Day provides us with an opportunity to review the decades that have passed, during which almost everything has been tried, in vain, to establish a definitive peace. The promises to bring justice to all the peoples of the subregion, including the Palestinian people, have languished year after year, to the great distress of the 5 million refugees who still await, in exile, a solution to their tragic fate.
The year 1967 marked the beginning of the Israeli occupation, which will soon have lasted 50 years. During the 1990s, the Oslo Accords brought hope by laying the foundation for a transition that was to be completed by the year 2000. The Quartet road map, for its part, provided that the two-State solution would be in effect by 2005 at the latest. Nothing of significance came out of those deadlines,in which the Palestinians had placed great hopes. Peace initiatives vanished into thin air one after another. In the meantime, settlements, which at the beginning numbered a few dozen settlers, have grown to more than half a million inhabitants, leaving less and less room for the future Palestinian State.
Palestinians feel cheated. They are tired of promises not kept, dulled by soothing speeches, weary of awaiting their hour. The Palestinians need their own State, here and now. Every year, they are asked to be patient because international diplomacy is on the verge of making the final advance that will change their lives. They do not want to wait any longer; they cannot wait any longer.
The public institutions that Palestinians have built with the help of the international community are disintegrating for lack of funding. The sealing-off of territories and the withholding of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority have had disastrous consequences for the functioning of those institutions. We would like to take this opportunity to urge donors to continue to provide assistance and to intensify it as a matter of urgency.I would now like to turn to the topical question of the admission of Palestine to the United Nations as a non-Member observer State. Although some Member States could be sceptical about the wisdom of the change in strategy by the Palestinians concerning the modification of their status at the United Nations, no one can dispute the legitimacy of their approach. The right of Palestinians to self-determination, independence and national sovereignty in their own State is undeniable. The General Assembly confirms that year after year by an overwhelming majority.
I would like to call on participants to consider the new request by the Palestinians while bearing in mind all that I have just recalled. The United Nations has permanent obligations regarding the question of Palestine; Member States do as well, some more than others for historical reasons. I would further urge participants to show their solidarity by voting in favour of the four draft resolutions that I will submit to the General Assembly this afternoon under the agenda item entitled “Question of Palestine” (A/67/L.17, A/67/L.18, A/67/L.19 and A/67/L.20).
The Committee will continue to fulfil the mission entrusted to it by the General Assembly as long as the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are not being fully respected. We will remain mobilized in favour of a definitive settlement of the conflict based on a two-State solution that is just and lasting and allows Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace and security.
During my recent trip to the Middle East, following the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel, I saw yet again the disastrous consequences of the absence of a permanent resolution of the conflict. Palestinians and Israelis spoke to me about the horror of living in fear of the next attack and of the next disruption to their normal lives. They voiced despair at what seem to be receding prospects for lives of dignity and calm.
The Middle East is changing rapidly and profoundly. It is more urgent than ever for the international community and the parties to intensify efforts towards peace. This date, 29 November, has great meaning for both sides. This year it takes on added significance, with the Palestinian decision to seek non-Member observer State status through a vote in the General Assembly later today.
The outlines of an end to the conflict are clear. We know them well. They are laid out in Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles, including that of land for peace, the road map and existing agreements between the parties. I would also like to stress the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
What is needed now is political will and courage. Leaders must show a sense of historic responsibility and vision. Israelis and Palestinians must break out of a zero-sum mentality and embrace a peaceful path forward. That is the best hope for both peoples. Young people in particular should be given a reason to look to the future with expectation, not with resignation at the certainty of a prolonged conflict.
Final-status issues can be resolved only through direct negotiations. Violence is not the way. It only breeds more hatred and bitterness. Much work lies ahead to create the conditions for the resumption of meaningful negotiations and to preserve the viability of the two-State solution.
It is crucial to sustain the ceasefire concluded on 21 November, which ended more than a week of devastating violence in Gaza and southern Israel. There must be no rocket fire from Gaza. I have condemned it repeatedly. There is no justification for indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets. Issues that have been pending since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), almost three years ago, must be deferred no longer: ending the closure, preventing the illicit trafficking of arms and achieving intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
Palestinian unity that supports a negotiated two-State solution is essential to achieve a just and lasting peace for the creation of a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank. It is equally important to preserve and support the commendable achievements of the State-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.
Continued settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is a violation of international law and the road map. Such activities must cease. Unilateral actions on the ground will not be accepted by the international community and will not be allowed to prejudice the outcome of the negotiations.
I share the deep and, indeed, global frustration that the two-State solution seems ever more distant. The cost of the continued stalemate rises with each passing day and with each missed opportunity.
That is the complex and wrenching backdrop, past and present, against which the Palestinians have decided to seek non-Member observer State status in the General Assembly. It is a matter for States Members of the United Nations to decide. It is important for all concerned to approach the decision responsibly and constructively.
Efforts should be focused on preserving the commendable achievements of the Palestinian Authority on the ground and on relaunching meaningful negotiations. That is the only way to resolve all permanent status issues.
Our priority remains to undertake the painstaking work of realizing the just and lasting peace for which generations of Palestinians and Israelis have longed — a peace that ends the occupation started in 1967 and ensures an independent, viable and sovereign State of Palestine living side by side with a secure State of Israel.
I call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to breathe new life into the peace process, which is now on life support. I urge the international community to help them to forge a credible political path that will realize the legitimate aspirations of both sides. I pledge to do everything in my power to support that goal.
On this International Day, I count on all involved to work together to translate solidarity into positive action for peace.
Today marks another day in the history of our collective commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Today, as usual, our statements will project a strong spirit of unity and solidarity with the Palestinian people, but the true test of our unity remains the scrupulous implementation of resolution 242 (1967) as the basis for achieving a just, viable and lasting solution. The date of 29 November is meaningful to the Palestinian people. On this day in 1947, the General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which partitioned the territory known as Mandate Palestine into two States, one Jewish and one Arab.
The African Union believes that the road to a lasting solution is not an event but a process, and has spared no efforts to remain firm and consistent in its position taken at successive African Union summits. Accordingly, at its summit held in July last year, African leaders, among other aspects, reaffirmed their full support for the peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in accordance with the principles of international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions to ensure the establishment of an independent Palestinian State for the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle, while further reaffirming support for the two-State solution as the only viable option for peaceful coexistence between the State of Palestine and Israel.
The African Union Assembly of Heads of State, in its decision EX.CL/Dec.652(XIX), also called upon States Members of the United Nations, especially the members of the Security Council, to support the Palestinian efforts to obtain full membership in the United Nations based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and urged all Member States that have not yet done so to recognize the State of Palestine as soon as possible.
It is well known that the Middle East is the closest region of the world to Africa, that the members of the League of Arab States include nine members of the African Union, and that 26 members of the African Union are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation alongside Arab States. In that respect, the Palestinian issue is still inscribed on the agenda of our continental organization’s summits, to which in the past we always invited the President of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and subsequently the President of the Palestinian Authority, to attend. Similarly, resolutions supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people and urgent calls to the international community to become more engaged in the quest for a just and equitable solution have always been endorsed in the discussions of African Heads of State and Government.
We know that many other States and international organizations are also working in the same vein as the African Union and its member States. We also note that the genuine international consensus that has developed and been confirmed over the years regarding the central position of the Palestinian question in the Middle East conflict and regarding the demand for the creation of an independent Palestinian State has yet to bear fruit.
Significant, albeit continually frustrated, efforts have been made by the international community since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian process in 1991. However, the outcome of those efforts remains very mixed, despite the Madrid terms of reference, which led to the Palestinian acceptance of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and to mutual recognition between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the State of Israel. Other steps that have also been taken have unfortunately proved to be imperfect achievements or incomplete stages, from the Oslo Accords to the Annapolis Joint Understanding of November 2007, which for the first time formalized the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by recourse to two separate States. In addition, the international community is regularly a powerless witness to events that contribute to perpetuating and escalating tensions. We are perfectly aware of the complexity of the challenges to be overcome to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to create the conditions for a fair, equitable and lasting peace in the region. At the same time, the current situation is untenable and does not serve the interests of any party. Thus, a healthy jump-start by the international community is timely and needed to create momentum and eliminate the consequences of war in order to promote a decisive change that will firmly put the region on the path towards peace, encompassing all demands in all their dimensions.
As we speak, human suffering, violence and mistrust, which have long dominated Palestinian-Israeli relations, continue to dominate them. Our overwhelming show of solidarity today must translate into tangible results on the ground, in the region and at the level of the United Nations.
The African Union remains committed to and resolute in its solidarity with the people of Palestine for the achievement of the two-State solution. The pivotal role of the Security Council, the General Assembly and this very committee cannot be overemphasized.
I appear before the Committee as a representative of the fourth Russell Tribunal on Palestine and, in that capacity, I represent global civil society. By way of preamble, I should say that my remarks here today are not personal or driven by prejudice or malice. I am looking only to shed some light on the predicament of a beleaguered people.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was created to shed such light and to seek accountability for the violations of international law and the lack of United Nations resolve that prevent the Palestinian people from achieving their inalienable rights, especially the right of self-determination. One particular stimulus to our convening was the disturbing failure of the international community to implement and enforce the clear judgment of the International Court of Justice in 2004, contained in its advisory opinion on the Israeli wall, as requested by the United Nations.
We met here in New York City six weeks ago, on 6 and 7 October, having previously sent out invitations to all interested parties. After listening to exhaustive testimony from many expert witnesses and following careful deliberation, we arrived at the following judgements.
We found that the State of Israel is guilty of a number of international crimes. The first crime is apartheid. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines that crime as inhuman acts by any Government that are committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them. That finding by the Tribunal was endorsed earlier in the year by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva after submissions by the Tribunal, made both orally and in writing.
The second crime is ethnic cleansing. In this case, that crime includes the systematic eviction of much of the native Palestinian population by force since 1947/48.
The third crime is the collective punishment of a civilian population, explicitly prohibited by article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has violated its obligation as an occupying Power throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Its most serious violations occurred recently in Gaza, with the blockade and virtual imprisonment of the entire population, the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians during the Israeli offensive operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, and now the devastation wrought by the recent attack under the operation Pillar of Defence.
As I speak, I can hear the tut-tutting of governmental and media tongues, trotting out the well-worn mantra of the apologists. “But Hamas started it with their rocket attacks. Israel is only defending itself.” Let us examine that argument. Did Hamas start “it”? When did “it” start?
The crisis in Gaza is a crisis rooted in occupation. Israel and its allies would contend that Gaza is no longer occupied. Really? The withdrawal of soldiers and settlers in 2005 changed the nature, not the existence, of occupation. Israel still controls Gaza’s airspace, coastal waters, borders, land, economy and lives. Gaza is still occupied. The people of Gaza, the 1.6 million Palestinians, half of them children under the age of 16, live in an open-air prison. That is the reality that underlies the current crisis. Until we understand that, and until representatives here today, their Governments and the General Assembly take responsibility to end that occupation, we cannot even hope that the current crisis is over.
In October, on the most recent occasion that jurors from the Russell Tribunal addressed the Committee, we were assured that our representations and reports would be presented on the floor of the General Assembly for general debate. If things go well today, we may hope to hold Committee members to that assurance.
I have been diverted briefly; let me return to the Israeli violations that the Russell Tribunal identified.
The fourth crime was in contravention of the prohibition on settlements in the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically article 49. The settlements — all the settlements — are not simply an obstacle to peace, they are illegal.
The fifth crime was the use of illegal weapons. During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, four years ago, international human rights organizations documented the use by Tel Aviv of white phosphorus in attacks on Gaza. Human Rights Watch found that “Israel’s repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes”. White phosphorus burns at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine what happens when it comes into contact with the skin of a child. Human Rights Watch called for Israel’s senior commanders to be held accountable. However, thus far there has been no such accountability.
There are more violations, but members know that. United Nations resolutions trace the history of Israeli violations. Members regret, deplore and even condemn the violations, but when have their resolutions been implemented? It is not enough to deplore and condemn. What we need is for the United Nations — for representatives here, their Governments and the General Assembly in which they serve — to take seriously their responsibility to protect Palestinians living under occupation and facing the daily violation of their inalienable rights to self-determination and equality.
The will of “We the people of these United Nations” is that all our brothers and sisters should be free to live in self-determination, that the oppressed be released from their burden by being given recourse to the law, and that the oppressors be called to account by that same law.
In 1981, I wrote a song called “The Gunner’s Dream”. It appeared on the Pink Floyd album The Final Cut. The song purports to express the dying dream of a British Royal Air Force gunner as he plunges to his death from a stricken aircraft towards the corner of some foreign field. He dreams of the future for which he is giving his life.
In 1982 and again in 1983, the General Assembly adopted resolutions, 37/88 and 38/79, holding Israel accountable for its violations. Those resolutions called for a complete arms embargo on Israel. No such embargo has been imposed. Instead, it has fallen to global civil society to take the lead. Following a call in 2005 from Palestinian civil society, social movements, activists and, increasingly, church bodies and even some local government authorities around the world have created the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions. It aims, as many members know, to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel to force an end to its violations, occupation and apartheid, denial of Palestinians’ right of return and requiring Palestinian citizens of Israel to live as second-class citizens, discriminated against on racial grounds and subject to different laws than their Jewish compatriots. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is gaining ground, hand over fist.
Just last week, I was happy to write a letter of support to the student government of the University of California, Irvine, congratulating them on demanding that their university divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Also, last summer, I was in Pittsburgh to witness the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (United States of America) vote on a resolution to divest from Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard. That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. To quote the great Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin' ”.
Let me return to today. The members of the General Assembly are about to have the opportunity to vote on changing Palestine’s status in the United Nations to that of a non-Member State. While not according full United Nations membership, it would provide United Nations recognition to Palestine as a State that would have the right to sign treaties, including, crucially, the Rome Treaty, so that Palestine could become a member of the International Criminal Court.
This is a momentous occasion, and the process leading up to it was started here 13 months ago. It is one of those rare instances where Member States can change the course and the face of history and at the same time reinforce one of the founding principles of the United Nations — the right to self-determination. The bid implicitly refers to the pre-1967 borders and includes the integrity of East Jerusalem, an autonomous Gaza and the refugee diaspora. It is momentous because there are already over 132 Member States that have recognized Palestine as a State and more are appearing every day. Just this week, Hamas has lent its support.
I urge members to consider two points. First, I would call on them to resist pressure from any powerful Government to coerce them into defeating or delaying this issue. Sadly, there is a history of coercion in this hallowed place. No Government, however rich or powerful, should be allowed to use its financial or military muscle to set United Nations policy by bullying other States on this or any other issue.
Secondly, they should not take the statehood vote as the end of fulfilling their obligations. General Assembly responsibility goes far beyond United Nations technicalities. It must include real protection for Palestinians under occupation and real accountability for violations of the law. The General Assembly has powers it does not use. It does not have to defer to or wait for the Security Council.
In just a few months, we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie, the young peace activist killed by an Israeli soldier driving an armoured Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to protect the house of a pharmacist and his family in Rafah, on Gaza’s border. International activists like Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall and James Miller took the risks they did, and they and their families paid the ultimate price, because the international community — Member States and the United Nations itself — had failed to protect the vulnerable Palestinian population living under that prolonged occupation.
We are proud, though tears burn our eyes, of the work of these young activists and deeply moved by their sacrifice. But we are angry, too, that our Governments and our international institutions, including the General Assembly, have failed to provide the protection that would make Rachel Corrie’s sacrifice unnecessary. Also, let us not forget the thousands of courageous and anonymous Palestinians and their equally courageous Israeli brothers and sisters in arms, a boycott from within, who protest peacefully on a weekly basis for the simple, basic right to an ordinary human life — the right to live in dignity and peace, to raise their families, to till the land, to build a just society, to travel abroad, to be free of occupation, to aspire to each and every human goal, just like the rest of us. Speaking of the rest of us, I live here in New York City. We are a somewhat parochial group, we New Yorkers, to a large extent cut off by propaganda and privilege from the realities of the Palestinians’ plight. Few of us understand that the Government of the United States of America, particularly through its power of veto in the Security Council, protects Israel from the condemnation of the global civil society that I have the honour to represent here today. Even as bombs rained down on 1.6 million people in Gaza, the President of the United States of America reasserted his position that Israel has the right to defend itself. We all know the reach and power of Israel’s military capability and the deadly effects of its actions. So what did President Obama mean? Did he mean that Israel has the right to indefinitely occupy the whole of the region?
The Palestinians are an ancient, intelligent, cultured, hospitable and generous people. And, of course, they have pride and will resist the occupation of their land and defend their women and children and their property to the best of their ability. Who would not? Would you? Would I? Would President Obama? One would hope so. It would be his duty.
More than a generation ago, the General Assembly adopted resolution 2625 (XXV), dealing with the principle of equal rights and self-determination. It recognized, in the preamble to the resolution, that when a people face “any forcible action” depriving them of those rights, they have the right to “actions against, and resistance to” such use of force. When the international community does not shoulder its responsibility to protect, Palestinians will shoulder that responsibility themselves.
This is not to suggest that I support the launching of missiles into Israel. I do not. The internationally recognized legal right of resistance means attacking any military target engaged in illegal occupation. But let us be clear, as we believe in the law as indispensable and even-handed. The launching of unguided rockets into Israel, where the most likely targets will be civilians, is not a legal form of resistance. It is wrong, and it is to be condemned.
Many civil society activists, including many Palestinians and Israelis, are committed to non-violent resistance. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has spread from Palestinian civil society to activists around the world, is part of that non-violent resistance, and I support it wholeheartedly, but let us be clear that the disparity of power, the reality of the occupation and the response of the occupied is the reality we face unless we find recourse in international law and hold all parties to it.
In the meantime, let me try to dial back the rhetoric a little and address the “Israel has a right to defend itself” claim from a legal and historical perspective. This will not take long.
Ex injuria non oritur jus — a legal right or entitlement cannot arise from injustice. If we truly oppose all violence, whether by the occupier or violent resistance by the occupied, we must aim to end the root causes of violence. In this conflict, that means ending Israel’s occupation, colonization, ethnic cleansing and denial of the right to self-determination and other inalienable rights that the Palestinian people is entitled to, according to the Charter of the United Nations and other tenets of international law. So it should be in the future.
Hamas, having dropped its original demand for Israel to be dismantled in the run-up to the elections, was democratically elected in January 2006, in elections deemed free and fair by every international observer present, including former President of the United States Jimmy Carter. The leaders of Hamas have made their position clear over and over again. It is this: Hamas is open to permanent peace with Israel if there is total withdrawal to the 1967 borders, 22 per cent of historic Palestine, and the arrangement is supported by a referendum of all Palestinians living under occupation. I know everyone here knows this, but where I live they do not know this. They do not know that that is the position of Hamas, so I am telling them.
We are all here for the same reason. We are all committed to human rights, international law, the centrality of the United Nations and equality for all, including for Palestinians. We are all attending this meeting on 29 November that marks the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. But it seems to me that our commemoration of this day is not enough. So what else to do?
The battleground is here, at the Headquarters of the United Nations, and simultaneously in the middle of New York City, with access to the media. The battle is two-pronged. First, we must continue the work of informing the people of the United States of America about the reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and, most especially, about the role of their Government, the host country of the United Nations, in using their tax dollars to fund and enable Israel’s violations.
Secondly, and just as important, we must address, finally, serious reform of the United Nations. The United Nations needs to embrace a new democracy. The veto must be rethought or the United Nations might die. The use of the veto as a strategic political tool by one or other of the permanent members of the Security Council has become outmoded. The system is too open to abuse. The blanket protection afforded to Israel by the use of the veto by the United States is but one example of such abuse. I urge the General Assembly to collectively work towards wresting the power back to the people in order to facilitate progress towards a more democratic body, better able to pursue the high aspirations of this great institution, to represent the will of the peoples of the great United Nations.
The General Assembly represents the largest and most democratic component of the United Nations. The United States, China, France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have no veto here. What is needed is political will. The Assembly can make decisions and take actions that the Security Council cannot or will not. The Charter of the United Nations begins with the words “We the peoples of the United Nations”, not “We the Governments”. I urge representatives, on behalf of the people of their countries, on behalf of the people of all countries, in fact on behalf of all the peoples, of this, our shared Earth, to act. They must seize this historic moment and support the vote today for Palestineian enhanced observer statehood status as a step towards full membership.
Before I adjourn the meeting, I would like to particularly thank Ambassador Pedro Núñez Mosquera, Vice-Chair of our Committee. He will soon end his term in New York and return to a new assignment in his beautiful capital, Havana. Ambassador Núñez is one of the most charming people of the United Nations microcosm. We other members of the Committee greatly appreciate his sense of duty, kindness and hard work. On behalf of all my Bureau colleagues and all members of the Committee, I would like to sincerely thank him for his contribution to our work and for his unwavering interest in United Nations efforts to help settle this long-standing conflict. Ambassador Núñez has worked hard. We wish him success in his future activities and in his personal and family life.
I would also like to thank all those without whom we would not have been here today, in particular, the staff of the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, the Department of Public Information and the Office of Central Support Services, as well as the interpreters and all those working behind the scenes.
III. MESSAGES RECEIVED ON THE OCCASION OF THE INTERNATIONAL
DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
A. Messages from Heads of State or Government
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan