Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., at Hofstra University Panel Lecture: "The Next Stage in the Israeli-Arab Peace Process", 8 May 1996:

The Middle East peace process, as you all know, started with the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. The present stage of this process, however, actually began with the historic Declaration of Principles, signed in Washington, D.C. on 13 September 1993, and the mutual recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Government of Israel. Since then, there have been many achievements: the Israeli withdrawal in the Gaza Strip and Jericho area, the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, the conclusion of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the redeployment of Israeli forces from six major cities in the West Bank and the extremely important Palestinian election in January 1996 for the Legislative Council and President of the Authority. During the same period, Israel concluded a peace treaty with Jordan, established relations with several Arab countries and achieved a different status in the international arena.

Enemies of peace, however, probably sensing the fact that the whole region is entering a new era, have lashed back. Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, several suicide bombings were carried out in Israel and led to serious damage of the process, and the Israeli government took measures imposing a virtual siege and strangulation of the Palestinian territory, people and economy, which was tantamount to collective punishment. Later on, the Israeli government also waged a broad and ugly military operation against Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

All of the above further threatened the peace process and increased anger and tension among the people of the region. In the midst of such a situation, and in spite of it, the Palestinian side took an important and positive step by convening the Palestine National Council (PNC) and amending the Palestinian National Charter through the abrogation of provisions contradicting the exchanged letters of mutual recognition between President Arafat and the late Prime Minister Rabin.

After the Israeli elections, and especially if the Israeli electorate on the 29th of May brings back the same government, one can assume that the negotiations of the second stage of the peace process can begin, which symbolically began with the meeting of the two sides three days ago. To the extent that negotiations on the final settlement will be crucial ones, it is my personal opinion that the parties ought to first implement their obligations under the agreement already reached. One cannot foresee serious and productive negotiations without the Israeli side first taking a series of actions, including the lifting of the siege, the redeployment from Hebron, the establishment of the safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, without which there is no territorial unity; the release of Palestinian prisoners and the second redeployment of Israeli forces from Area B in the West Bank. These are the kinds of actions that are necessary to lead to a serious new stage in the peace process.

Negotiations on the final status settlement, which will include negotiations on Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and borders, will no doubt be difficult and complex. The Palestinian position, however, is very clear. It is based on international legitimacy and requires the achievement of a minimum of justice for the Palestinian people. This position can be summarized as one demanding the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. This will be the way for the achievement of a lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.