Statement by H.E. Mr. Farouk Kaddoumi, Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, before the General Assembly Plenary, Agenda item: Question of Palestine, 29 November 1996: (Original: Arabic)

Mr. President,

Allow me first to extend to you my sincere congratulations upon your election to the presidency of the Fifty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly. I am convinced that your wisdom as well as your long-standing experience and skills will enable you to preside over this session with great ability. I should also like to pay special tribute to the friendly nation of Malaysia for its genuine and historical relationship with our country Palestine as it has always supported our just cause and the struggle of the Palestinian people to realize their inalienable rights. Your country, Mr. President, has also played a distinguished role in defending our cause in the Security Council and in other United Nations fora.

Allow me also at this time to thank your predecessor, H.E. Mr. Diogo Freitas do Amaral, who presided over the Fiftieth Session with great skill and ability.

I would like to address my special thanks on this occasion to the members of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their arduous and persistent efforts in serving and promoting the Palestinian cause.

I would also like to express my deep appreciation for the efforts exerted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in view of his efforts for the promotion of international peace and security and for his concern for the efficiency and high quality performance of the different institutions of the United Nations.

Mr. President,

The question of Palestine, as well as the Middle East peace process, persist in preoccupying the United Nations and its Member States. National and international institutions, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations continue to debate this question, mainly with the aim of promoting peace and preserving the international will that had led to the elaboration of the Madrid Peace Conference, which brought long-standing, conflicting parties to the negotiating table.

However, we witness these days the dwindling of the dynamics of peace and a standstill in the negotiations of the Middle East peace process, which faces a number of obstacles that have drawn the attention of the world community, particularly after the deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and the resumption of the cycle of violence as a means of interaction rather than peaceful political negotiations.

Those recent and sudden developments, which were ignited by Israel by its opening of a tunnel dug alongside the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, compelled the Arab Group at the United Nations to call for the convening of an urgent meeting Security Council at the time of the beginning of this session to consider the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. Several Ministers of Foreign Affairs participated in those deliberations, expressing their concern and dissatisfaction with regard to Israeli policies and the repressive measures which led to the explosive situation that was the cause of a large number of casualties among the Palestinian population. Hundreds were martyred and the upsurge of a new Palestinian "intifada" as a natural response to Israeli provocative measures, especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem, was expected. The Security Council responded by adopting resolution 1073 (1996).

Mr. President,

The policy of the new Israeli government under the premeirship of Mr. Netanyahu is responsible for the faltering of the Middle East peace process. The coming to power of the coalition of the right wing Likud with other extreme forces few months ago led to the application of their declared program, which aims at increasing Jewish immigration, consolidating, expanding, developing and increasing the number of settlements; and imposing land seizures and forceful expropriation while ignoring the principle of the exchange of "land for peace", which is the cornerstone of the peace process, as reaffirmed in the United States peace initiative of 1991.

The present Israeli government has also expressed its opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and to the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Further, it has consistently reiterated its stand concerning the necessity of maintaining its occupation of areas in Hebron and Nablus and its vital water resources which constitute the greater part of the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967. Also, Israel refuses to discuss the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and considers it not negotiable. Mr. Netanyahu has also declared his intention of keeping the Syrian Golan Heights under Israeli jurisdiction and of controlling its water resources under the pretense that they constitute a vital part of Israel’s territorial security. The Israeli Prime Minister has adopted the slogan of "peace for peace", and refuses the return to the pre-June 4, 1967 borders.

The Israeli government attempts to gain time by maneuvering with words and emphasizing futile details in agreed-upon clauses contained in the agreements reached, which it wishes to annul or alter. What we are witnessing today in the case of the endless bickering over the redeployment of Israeli forces from Hebron is ample proof of Israel’s policy of non-compliance with agreements reached between the Palestinian Authority and the previous Israeli government. Mr. Netanyahu’s government insists on the necessity of keeping the city divided between a Palestinian population of 120,000 persons and four hundred Israeli settlers, brought by the Israeli authorities so as to allow them to use the excuse of protecting them as a means of prolonging the stay of Israeli forces in the city. This so-called "security" excuse has constantly been used to perpetuate the hold of the Israeli authorities over Palestinian cities even after the redeployment of Israeli military forces around the cities had taken place.

Moreover, Israel persists in imposing severe sieges on the occupied Palestinian territory since February 1996, which includes the isolation of the city of Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian territory. It decided to resume settlement activities and to expand the existing settlements as well as to continue the confiscation of lands. Further, Israel insists on aggravating the situation by creating obstacles and imposing restrictions on the flow of foreign aid from donor countries to the Palestinian National Authority.

The Israeli government refuses until this day to allow for the return of displaced persons who were forced to leave the occupied Palestinian territory following the June 1967 war, despite the fact that the Declaration of Principles states on the establishment of a quadrilateral committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Israel to organize the return of those displaced, which number no less than 750,000 Palestinians living in the neighboring countries. It has also rejected the "return" of the Palestine refugees who were driven from their homeland in 1948 and called for their integration into the countries of their present residence. Today, the number of Palestinian refugees has reached approximately three and a half million, and United Nations resolution 194 (III) justly calls for their right of return and compensation, in accordance with the principles of human rights and international law.

Mr. President,

The Arab side has expressed a genuine desire in favor of the peace process. Some even normalized their relations with Israel, and they were visited by both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Perez. However, the present Israeli government has closed doors with regard to such international and regional efforts, thus giving way to a growing skepticism among Arab countries, some of which resorted to the interruption of the process of normalization while at the same time questioning all that had been achieved in terms of confidence-building measures with Israel. The convening of an Arab Summit meeting in Cairo in June 1996 served as a signal to the world that the peace process was being thwarted and was in danger of extinction because of Israel’s intransigent position, which seems to push for a return back to "square one" and for ignoring the achievements of the peace process. Israel refuses the clear basis in which Madrid Peace Conference was established, namely, Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 425, which call for the withdrawal of Israel from the Arab territories. Israel also attempts to change that basis and to take measures which are capable of destroying the peace process and to plunge the Middle East region into a new, vicious cycle of violence and chaos.

Most dangerous of such Israeli policy and measures are those related to the resumption of settlements, of besieging and repressing the Palestinian people, of forbidding trade with surrounding Arab countries and of erecting obstacles to the channeling of foreign aid. The Israeli government also has been launching direct and indirect threats in its official statements against Syria and Lebanon, while at the same time refusing to resume negotiations with them on the basis of what had been achieved with the previous Israeli government. The plan called "Lebanon First" is nothing but an Israeli ploy and a fake scenario meant only for media consumption.

Mr. President,

The results of the Israeli elections came against what many were expecting. It was widely assumed in international circles that the assassination of the late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, would push the Israelis to support the Labor party which participated with the Arabs in the peace process. The winning of the right arose the concerns of the international public opinion of Israel’s heading towards extremism and spite of the passage of years since its engagement in the peace process. The actual events reflected precisely that and compelled the European Union, and its parliament and governments to express their concern over the setbacks in the peace process and their fears with regard to its eventual interruption as a result of the aggravation of the situation and the resurgence of violence. Further in this regard, President Clinton, appreciating the gravity of the situation, invited President Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington in order to search for ways to stop the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and to induce Israel to seriously pursue the negotiations.

Prior to that the Security Council considered the events and called upon Israel for "the immediate cessation and reversal of all acts which have resulted in the aggravation of the situation and which have negative implications for the Middle East peace process". It also called for the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians to be ensured" as well as for the "immediate resumption of negotiations within the Middle East peace process on its agreed basis and the timely implementation of the agreements reached". Israel has refused to comply with this resolution just as it has done with previous United Nations resolutions.

Mr. President,

A mood of optimism had begun to pervade the international community with the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference. The most optimistic were the Palestinian people themselves, who hoped that their suffering would end and that they might return to normal and stable lives in their own cities and villages in an independent Palestinian state after having lived through a half century of dispersal and alienation.

As a declaration of its good intentions, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization complied with all the required measures for confidence building with a view of creating a favorable environment for peace and for developing the ripe conditions for peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. In this respect, it was hoped that the way would be paved for a growing optimism through the possibility of achieving promising end results through negotiations.

Unfortunately, the new Israeli government has not reciprocated, but has even acted arrogantly in flagrant contradiction with these moves. It has lagged behind and wavered in the execution of its commitments, has postponed the fulfillment of most of the provisions agreed upon such as the release of Palestinian prisoners, who now number about four thousand and five hundred; has restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinian citizens within the Palestinian territory and still controls the entry and exit of Palestinians to and from the Palestinian territory; continues to prohibit the free passage of imports and exports and place obstacles to the channeling of foreign aid. It has also postponed the redeployment of Israeli forces from major cities and has imposed a siege on Palestinian territories since February 1996, causing great damage to the Palestinian economy. Moreover, Israel has refused the handing over of empowerment to the Palestinian Authority in the areas of water resources, electricity and telecommunications. It insists on keeping its hold and sovereignty over the land and natural resources. The Israeli government has in fact blocked the advance of the peace process.

Mr. President,

We had high hopes that during this period of time that the United States of America would increase its efforts in order to invigorate the peace process and use its influence on the Israeli government in this regard. It seems however that it was engaged in other issues which encouraged Israel to adopt and intransigent position ignoring the international will to establish just, comprehensive and permanent peace in the Middle East. We view the revitalization of the role of the Russian Federation and the effective contribution by the European Union, as well as the persistent important role played by the United Nations, including the Security Council, as vital and complimentary elements of the revitalization of the peace process and its preservation from complete fossilization and failure.

Without doubt all such efforts will help the United States of America in influencing Israel and to save the peace process.

The question of Palestine remains the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and genuine comprehensive peace cannot be achieved without putting an end to Israeli occupation of Arab land and the return of the Palestinian refugees, the exercise by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state with the Holy City of Jerusalem as its capital.

The implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions in this domain remains part of the permanent responsibility of the United Nations toward the question of Palestine, its land and people. The role of UNRWA and its direct responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinian refugees should be maintained until a permanent solution is reached for their situation. The Palestinian problem cannot be solved simply through the redeployment of Israeli forces, but only through a genuine withdrawal of the forces of occupation from all occupied Palestinian territory since 1967, including Jerusalem, through the dismantling of the settlements, which have been declared by the international community as illegal as evident in Security Council resolutions 465 and 478, and through the exercise by the Palestinian people of their right to sovereignty over their lands and natural resources.

The refusal of Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty serves as further proof of its aggressive intentions, and despite its hold over many weapons of mass destruction, it persists in its use of the excuse of the threat to its security as the basis for its refusal to withdraw from all occupied Arab territories: Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights and South Lebanon. Moreover, it has been continuously threatening to annex these territories and to place them under its own jurisdiction.

Mr. President,

An adequate balance of forces and interests is a necessary factor for the establishment of a just, comprehensive and permanent peace in the Middle East. The acknowledgment by the United States of America of such balance through the equal dealing with all the parties, and the usage of one standard is the path to political stability.

This should also imply putting an end to the embargo imposed on the brotherly Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and the ending of the heavy suffering imposed on the brotherly people of Iraq, as well as the preservation of the territorial integrity of Iraq and the non-intervention in its internal affairs.

The opportunity seems ripe at this historical juncture for the pursuit and projection of peace and for the preservation of security and stability in the Middle East through the achievement of a just solution to the question of Palestine and the adherence to relevant United Nations resolutions and the principles of its Charter. If this opportunity is not seized, we sincerely feel that the whole Middle East region will plunge into an era of tension, instability and chaos for a long period to come.