Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N. at the 8th Annual Peace Prize Forum, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 22 February 1996:

Peace Prize:

On behalf of President Arafat, I would like to say that it is an honor and a pleasure for me to be here tonight at Augsburg College at the Peace Prize Festival. I wish to thank all those involved in the coordination and preparation of this event, including the local chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and The Dakotas and Dr. Lundestad, Executive Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. At this time I feel it is appropriate to make mention of Norway's role in international affairs and in promoting peace around the world, which has certainly been significant and laudable.

This tribute to three Nobel Peace Prize laureates from the Middle East, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, represents not only a tribute in recognition of their brave and determined efforts to make peace a reality for their peoples, but also a tribute to the overall goal of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East as a whole and to all those supporting the many challenging tasks in this regard. I cannot fail to mention, in particular, the person who just recently paid with his life in pursuit of this goal, the late Prime Minister Rabin.

Clearly, the peace process begun by the three laureates in Oslo, Norway has already generated deep and serious changes towards a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. It symbolizes a turning point, ultimately leading to a comprehensive and viable solution to the Palestine question, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestinian Elections:

I would like to briefly discuss what I see as the three most important features with regard to the recent Palestinian legislative and presidential election.

Firstly, the high voter turnout, averaging approximately 80% despite some difficulties faced by voters in Jerusalem and Hebron. This is a clear indication of the general support among the Palestinian people for the peace process as well as their commitment to their national goals since they viewed this election as a vehicle bringing them closer to the achievement of such goals. It also served as a measurement of the high value they place on the democratic process.

Second, the clean and uncorrupt nature of the elections. Neither the Authority, its institutions nor the people thought of the possibility of meddling in the democratic process, which again reflects the respect for democracy and for the right of citizens to choose their representatives freely. Of course, there were administrative and technical problems that arose, but these were basically due to the fact that it was the first time the elections were being held and that there were no specialized Palestinian institutions or persons to conduct them.

The third area of importance concerns the results of the election, which were significant in two-fold. An overwhelming mandate was given to President Arafat and consequently to his policies in pursuit of peace. And, secondly, the diversity of the candidates elected to the Council reflects the various political, religious and economic groups in Palestinian society. Unfortunately, Hamas did not formally present candidates and some smaller leftist groups did not participate, calling for a boycott of the elections. However, the results showed both the little effect the boycott supporters have on Palestinian society as well as the readiness of the society to uphold political diversity and pluralism and democracy.

Future of the Peace Process:

It seems that the most important element with regard to the future of the peace process is the compliance by the two parties with their contractual obligations, as defined in agreements already reached in the past. I strongly believe that success of the parties in taking future actions is linked to this element. Let us briefly examine the most important of these contractual obligations at this time.

On the Palestinian side there is the issue of the Charter or the Covenant. Of course, we do intend to deal with it, but there are several difficulties impeding progress, including problems regarding the presence of PNC members, which we are currently trying to resolve. As for other issues or shortcomings on the Palestinian side, we are clearly doing the best we can within all available means, which at times has been very little, to deal effectively with our side of the process.

On the Israeli side, we have serious comments to make with regard to Israeli compliance. Let me begin with the issue of the establishment of a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the only way to achieve the continuity of the Palestinian land, with its physical, economic and political meaning. The repeated closures, isolating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and both from the outside world, represent another serious problem in this regard. The latter, isolation from the outside world, is very difficult to understand, even in light of continuing Israeli arguments about security. Also, the various consequences of such closures make the building of a viable economy an even more difficult task.

The third area of non-compliance by the Israelis concerns the displaced persons who were supposed to return to the West Bank and Gaza during the transitional period. Almost two years have elapsed and the parties haven't even arrived at a definition for the displaced persons yet. Of course, in addition to these problems, there are other issues of contention that remain such as the Palestinian prisoners and the situation of the settlers in Hebron.

In short, however, we have definitely witnessed greater seriousness on the Israeli side in recent times in complying with provisions of the agreements reached, including the redeployment in the West Bank, but that does not negate the fact that we continue to have real qualms with regard to the various gaps and shortcomings in Israeli compliance.

Following the issue of compliance with contractual obligations, comes negotiation in good faith between the two parties with regard to the elements of the final settlement, namely the future of the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestine refugees and final borders. These negotiations must begin on time this coming May, and great seriousness and determination will be necessary for the parties to be able to arrive at a just and balanced settlement, which will be the cornerstone for a lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Israeli Elections:

As you know, the Israeli elections will take place on the 29th of May, and it will probably be Israel's most important election. It is clear that the results will have a direct on the peace process, including the Palestinian and Syrian tracks. We do hope that the Israeli electorate will make the right choice in favor of peace.

The United States:

The two parties need the commitment and contribution of the United States in helping them to fulfill the agreements reached and in producing new agreements related to the final settlement. At this time, it is clear that the U.S. must take specific actions, putting all its weight behind the decisions made and in support of the efforts being undertaken. I believe, for instance, that the U.S. should take the necessary steps to abrogate for once and for all U.S. laws hostile to the PLO, with all the practical ramifications of such a step. In my opinion, the U.S. should also give more support to the Palestinian side in promotion of continuing progress and development, which will of course be conducive to greater progress and success in all aspects of the peace process.