Statement By

H.E. Mr. Yasser Arafat

President of the State of Palestine,

Chairman of the Executive Committee of the

Palestine Liberation Organization,

President of the Palestinian National Authority

Before the

53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Agenda Item: General Debate

United Nations

New York

28 September 1998

 Mr. President,

For the first time, Palestine participates in the opening of the United Nations General Assembly under the agenda item "General debate". This participation is a manifestation of the resolution adopted by your esteemed Assembly on the upgrade of Palestine’s representation at the United Nations, which we consider to be an essential step towards full membership. I would like, at this time, to express the deep gratitude of the Palestinian people to all Member States that supported this resolution by an overwhelming majority. They have reflected the will of the countries and peoples of the world for the need to realize justice for the Palestinian people, to restore their international status and their seat at the United Nations.

Mr. President,

I extend to you our sincere congratulations as you preside over the 53rd session of the General Assembly, wishing you all success in your important and noble task during these crucial times in our contemporary world and in our international organization. I also extend our gratitude and appreciation to H.E. Mr. Hennadiy Udovenko for chairing and presiding effectively over the 52nd session, praising in particular his leadership during the resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

It gives me great pleasure to commend the Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, for his distinguished and wise leadership, and I congratulate him for the many successes he has achieved in several fields. We had the honor, Mr. Secretary-General, of welcoming you a few months ago in our country, Palestine, where you had observed and witnessed firsthand the tragedy of the Palestinian people and their grave suffering as a result of the continuing Israeli occupation of our homeland, Palestine. It is my hope that we will have the opportunity to welcome you in the future under better conditions, a day when the occupation has been terminated and Palestine has been restored its freedom.

Mr. President,

As we approach the end of the twentieth century, our world is witnessing, and all of mankind is experiencing, great changes and important events, beginning with globalization and the problems of the international financial market to the technological revolution of satellites and the age of information. All of the rapid changes that have stormed our contemporary world require the necessary enhancement of our collective work within the framework of the United Nations on the basis of the purposes and principles of the Charter and for the improvement of international cooperation in different arenas and the acceleration of the dialogue between the North and South in order to establish a better world, where peace, justice and prosperity for all mankind prevail.

Many of the difficult and complicated tasks in this regard have been forced upon us and we must deal with them effectively. We have before us the task of economic and social development, particularly in the countries of the Third World, solving the debt crisis, as well as the problems of poverty, famine, disease and migration in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These challenges require the attainment of comprehensive, equitable relations that are more rational and more just. Many of the problems of a global nature, such as terrorism, drugs, contagious diseases and organized crime, require the enhancement of international law, as well as the establishment of organizations and mechanisms for that purpose within the framework of the United Nations. At this stage, we welcome the creation of the International Criminal Court, which is considered to be an important step towards the enhancement of the law and towards bringing an end to the atrocities and crimes being committed against humanity.

Mr. President,

All of these challenges and responsibilities should not prevent us from recalling that many of the basic tasks of the international community in our contemporary world have not yet been accomplished. There are peoples who still remain under foreign occupation, including our Palestinian people, who have been, and continue to be, exposed to one of the gravest injustices. This great people did not commit a crime; they did not commit aggression against anyone; they did not occupy the land of any other people. However, they were the victims of aggression; their land was occupied; they were dispersed and forced by military power to a life in diaspora and exile. There are still 4 million Palestinians refugees living in camps, awaiting the realization of international justice and the implementation of resolutions of international legitimacy to do them justice and put an end to the tragedy of life in exile as refugees for more than a half century.

It is also necessary to exert more effort to resolve many of the regional conflicts and problems, including of course the Middle East, the Balkan region, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and others. It is necessary to exert special effort and to invest additional resources towards solving the problems of the African continent in order to allow this great continent to move forward on the path of development and progress. This should include working to restore normal conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and achieving peace and stability in the Great Lakes region and African Horn.

It is important also to consider the issue of sanctions because of its terrible and destructive impact and effect on peoples and on neighboring states. Here I refer specifically to Iraq, Libya and Sudan. As we call for solutions to these problems and the lifting of sanctions on the basis of the implementation of Security Council resolutions, we cannot but express the feeling of many of us concerning the use of double standards in implementing this principle. In this regard, I would like to express our satisfaction about the progress that has been achieved in particular with regard to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Finally comes an issue that is extremely important, which is the issue of nuclear disarmament and weapons of mass destruction and non-proliferation. As we strongly support the goals of the international community in this regard, we refer in specific to the immense problem existing in our region – the possession by Israel of these weapons and its refusal to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and place its nuclear installations under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The small size of our region and its nature increase the frightening dangers stemming from the continuation of this situation. What occurred recently in South Asia must encourage all of us towards sincere cooperation and commitment to one standard with regard to this issue.

In order to accomplish all of this we need a United Nations that is more effective. We support the efforts exerted by many countries and the efforts of the Secretary-General in this regard. At the same time, we think, rather we believe, that our goal must go beyond reducing expenditures, downsizing the Secretariat, streamlining the General Assembly and expanding the Security Council, all of which are important issues. Our goal must go beyond that to achieve the complete democratization of this global organization. As such, it is necessary to enhance the role of the General Assembly and it is also necessary to find a solution for the veto issue in the Security Council, particularly the frequent and excessive use of it. Transparency and clear rules of procedure must prevail in the Council. At this juncture, I would like to remind you that, since 1973, the Palestinian question has been subjected to 21 vetoes in the Security Council by one of the permanent members of the Council, the last two of which occurred in a period of less than two weeks. In short, it is necessary to secure for all here in the United Nations the ability to effectively contribute on the basis of mutual respect.

Mr. President,

Last May, the Palestinian people commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Al-Nakba, the dispossession and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Despite all of these bitter years, the oldest and largest refugee question in our contemporary world remains without solution and our land still suffers under occupation and colonial settlement. Its natural resources are being subject to exploitation and the city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif is still being subjected to judaization, land confiscation, demolition of homes, confiscation of identity cards from its inhabitants, imposition of demographic composition and artificial administrative measures. In addition is the isolation of the city of Bethlehem and the conflict occurring in Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the rest of the Palestinian cities. Eight million Palestinians are still being deprived of their right to exercise sovereignty over their land like the rest of the peoples of the world.

Despite all of this, despite the long and grave suffering and pain, and after long and legendary steadfastness, our Palestinian people have been able to survive and preserve their national identity. Thus, our people chose the peace option and accepted the will of the international community in this regard. Accordingly, we decided with our Arab brothers to participate in the peace process, which began in Madrid in 1991. Then we took the well-known historical step leading to the Oslo Agreement with Israel, which was signed at the White House in Washington, D.C. on 13 September 1993. This development carried the promise of historic reconciliation and coexistence between the two peoples, the potentials of a new Middle East and the beginning of the establishment of a comprehensive and permanent peace in the region. Indeed, all parties realized tangible achievements and the Palestinian people were able to start building their institutions and to deal with the destructive consequences of the long years of occupation. They experienced, in particular, the general elections and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. Despite all of the difficulties that confronted the process, the general trend continued to be forward progress until the peace process was dealt a severe blow by the assassination of the late Yitzhak Rabin, my partner in the peace process, the peace of the braves, by an Israeli extremist. This was followed by other blows resulting from the bombings and the grave deterioration of the living conditions of our people and deliberate acts to destroy the peace.

When the government of Benjamin Netanyahu took office in Israel, a new chapter began with its adoption of general political outlines that were not consistent with the existing agreements. The government publicly tried to get rid of the principles of the peace process, which are Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425 and the principle of land for peace. It ceased implementation of the existing agreements with the exception of the redeployment in Al-Khalil, which was achieved only after intensive American efforts. The Israeli government continued its evasion and ceased implementation of the obligations of the transitional period, which are of great importance to our people, including the safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the airport, the seaport, the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons, and the industrial zones. Neither the first stage of redeployment, which was supposed to begin on 7 March 1997, nor the second stage, which was supposed to begin on 7 September 1997, were effected. Both, along with the third redeployment, the date of which was also missed since the middle of this year, should have led to the withdrawal of the Israeli army from 90% of our land. Moreover, this government’s policies of economic suffocation, closure and direct oppression against our people, which costs us daily losses of about $10 million dollars, constitute an economic catastrophe. The government has continued with the intensification of settlements and the judaization of Jerusalem, the isolation of Bethlehem and the old city of Al-Khalil, and the disapproval of the operation of the Palestinian airports, safe passage, industrial zones and the seaport, in order to escalate the suffocation and the siege against our people and to destroy the peace process.

All of these policies and positions adopted by the government of Mr. Netanyahu caused this dangerous situation and the complete stalemate of the peace process on the Palestinian track, as well as on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, which ceased totally, as well as the general tension prevailing in the region and the danger of descending into total chaos, for which the whole world has expressed grave concern and has called upon the Israeli side to change its policies and positions and to comply with the basis of the peace process and implement the existing agreements. It is high time for the international community, in adherence with international law and in service to peace, to exert effective and tangible pressure on the Israeli side to realize those aims which serve peace, security and stability on the international level, and not only in the Middle East, by implementing the agreements, which were signed at the White House under the auspices of President Clinton, with the signatures of Russia, the U.S., the European Union, Norway, Egypt, Jordan and the presence of Japan, and to implement international resolutions 242, 338 and 425 and the principle of land for peace, which were the basis of the Madrid Peace Conference.

Mr. President,

With the hope of halting the deterioration of the existing situation, the Palestinian side, in cooperation with many of the concerned parties, has sought to intensify efforts, particularly with the U.S. co-sponsor, and especially the efforts of President Clinton, for which we express our gratitude. These efforts resulted in the initiative which contained all of the important pending issues and which was submitted to the parties concerned. As you are aware, the Palestinian side accepted this American initiative despite the fact that it did not meet our just and legitimate demands. In return, the Israeli side still rejects this initiative and continues in its attempts to undermine it and preempt its contents. President Clinton, thankfully, sent Madame Secretary of State Albright and Mr. Dennis Ross who have made great efforts to push the peace process forward and protect it. Despite all of that, the Israeli government has not responded to these efforts. Hence, we call upon the U.S. co-sponsor to declare its initiative and to publicly and clearly announce the responsibility of the party that is impeding peace. We also call upon the U.S. to move effectively in a manner consistent with its responsibilities towards the peace process and towards its interests and credibility in the Middle East region, and to protect this region from the dangers emanating from the destruction of the peace process. This morning, President Clinton graciously took an important step to save the peace process and to push it forward by convening a meeting at the White House between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations, which was an important one, and we thank him for that, particularly as the efforts of the U.S. will continue to push the peace process forward and for the implementation of the signed agreements.

In this context we call upon the other concerned parties to intensify their efforts, particularly the Russian Federation, in its capacity as one of the co-sponsors of the peace process, as well as China and Japan. We also call upon the European Union, with its economic and political interests and capabilities, to move quickly and effectively to salvage and safeguard the peace process. In this same direction, we call upon all of you to support the French-Egyptian initiative to convene an international conference of all states determined to save the peace process from the dangerous crisis it has reached.

We have not lost hope in the peace process, and we will continue to implement our obligations in accordance with the existing agreements. At the same time, we will not give up on the need for Israeli compliance with those agreements and the implementation of their pending obligations without any delays or evasiveness. We will not give up our national rights nor will we give up the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

At this stage, I wish to extend, on behalf of the Palestinian people, our deep gratitude to all the donor countries and to the World Bank for their valuable contributions aimed at alleviating the suffering of our people, at assisting them in the building and developing of their country, and at achieving effective economic and social development. I reiterate our gratitude to them, particularly because they are doing so despite the obstacles imposed by Israel in this regard.

Mr. President,

It is so difficult to separate the United Nations from the question of Palestine, for this international organization has been dealing with our cause since its inception. It was the United Nations which partitioned Palestine and it has never ceased, until this time, to deal with the results of the events that followed, with the repeated and increasing injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people, for which no remedy has been found until now. As we reaffirm the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine, we urge you all to enhance your solidarity and support for our people in the coming period and through these critical circumstances, on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and international humanitarian law.

We expect that the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention will be held before the end of this year on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, in accordance with the recommendations adopted repeatedly by the Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly. In the same context, we also expect the Israeli participation in the work of the 53rd session of the General Assembly to be in conformity with international law, thus ensuring that Israeli credentials do not cover the territories determined by the Security Council and the General Assembly as occupied Palestinian and Arab territories since 1967, including occupied East Jerusalem. This is something on which there is a consensus by the international community.

Mr. President,

I would like to call upon all of you, from this place, the source of international legitimacy and peacemaking, the guardian of freedom, security and stability, and the source for the achievement of justice and prosperity for humankind, to stand by our people, especially as the five-year transitional period provided for in the Palestinian-Israeli agreements will end on 4 May 1999 and our people demand of us to shoulder our responsibilities and they await the establishment of their independent state. This independent Palestinian state must be established as an embodiment of the right of our people to self-determination. I assure you that our people will continue to pursue and protect the peace of the braves in the Middle East. We appeal to you to continue your support for us, as has always been the case in the decisive moments of the history, the present and the future of our people. Help us to achieve the national goal of our people.

It is not admissible for Israel to continue dominating the Palestinian people, and everyone is aware that 100% peace means 100% security and 100% freedom. If the Israeli government wants reciprocity, I declare from this podium my demand of them for mutual compliance of the signed agreements, especially in the fields of security and the protection of Palestinian and Israeli souls and against violence and terrorism in all its forms and sources. I invite the Israeli government to engage in common serious work between us to address that. There is no alternative to peace… Help us to achieve it.

Mr. President,

In the year 2000, the past and the future will meet in Bethlehem, Palestine, joined by a global vision of hope and peace for all peoples. The world will celebrate the second millennium of the birth of Jesus Christ and the beginning of a new millennium. It is a religious and spiritual occasion that bears great importance not only for the Palestinian people and the region, but also for all the faithful in the world, as well as the entire international community.

The Palestinian people have actually begun serious preparations to celebrate this important religious and historical occasion, with the cooperation of many religious, political and social institutions. We call upon you to join us in bearing the responsibility of these preparations and we invite you to directly participate in the forthcoming celebrations to start together, God willing, a new path. In this regard, we appreciate the addition, by the General Assembly, of a new item to its agenda, entitled "Bethlehem 2000". We also extend our thanks to the Chairman and the members of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their initiative in this regard. I also take this opportunity to thank its sister committee, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Mr. President, I look forward to speaking to you once more when Palestine takes its natural place in the community of nations, when peace prevails in the land of peace and in the entire Middle East. Peace be upon you.