Address by H.E. President 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 54th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

(Agenda Item: General Debate) 

23 September 1999 

United Nations, New York 

Mr. President, 

            It gives me great pleasure to see you presiding over this new session of the General Assembly after your long struggle to gain freedom, along with Sam Nujoma, Nelson Mandela, and others strugglers who have striven to bring an end to the era of colonialism, apartheid and foreign occupation. 

Your presence here today leading this session is an attestation to the victory achieved by the people of Namibia in the battle for freedom and independence.  It strengthens the hope of the Palestinian people that the dawn of their freedom and independence of their homeland of Palestine is near. Further, the victory of your friendly country Namibia affirms the constructive role played by the United Nations in the eradication of colonialism that has burdened oppressed peoples, enabling them to gain their national independence.   I call upon the United Nations to continue to undertake this historic role to eliminate all forms of occupation and colonialism and to strengthen the foundations of peace throughout the world.  As I congratulate and welcome you, I would be remiss if I did not extend our gratitude to your predecessor, H.E. Mr. Didier Opertti.  It also gives me great pleasure to express our deep appreciation to H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for his distinguished role in leading this international organization and striving for world peace. 

            Here I also want to congratulate the three new members of the United Nations: the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, and the Kingdom of Tonga.  Their membership is an important step towards the realization of the universality of this organization. 

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            I come to you today, you the representatives of the international community, for the second consecutive year, seeking the continuation of your support for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, particularly at this crucial and sensitive stage, which lies between us and the declaration of our independent Palestinian State and sovereignty over our liberated land.  This requires the strengthening of international efforts in order to actually achieve a just solution of the question of Palestine, the crux of the Middle East conflict.  The coming Millennium Summit, with all the renewed hope it represents for the people on earth for a new and promising beginning for all of us, must represent a decisive deadline for the achievement of peace in the Middle East.  We should all work with all our strength to achieve this.  I look forward to the participation of Palestine as a Member State in the United Nations in the deliberations of this Millennial Summit, and I trust in your support of this Palestinian determination to achieve independence so that Palestine will take the position it deserves within the family of nations.

Mr. President, 

            As you know, we concluded with Mr. Barak, the new Prime Minister of Israel, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on the 4th of September, under the auspices of President Hosni Mubarak and in the presence of King Abdullah II, Secretary Albright, and Mr. Moratinos, representing the European Union, and Mr. Larsen, representing Mr. Kofi Annan.  The Memorandum aims at the implementation of all the obligations of the interim period under the Oslo Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum and the Hebron Protocol, and for the resumption of the permanent status negotiations.  This was done with the hope of bringing an end to the practice of delaying and freezing implementation that was pursued by the former Israeli government, which completely paralyzed the peace process and almost dashed the tremendous hopes created by this process for all the countries and peoples of the Middle East. 

The Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum serves as a source of new hope for restoring the peace process to its right track because it reaffirms the implementation of existing agreements and of all the obligations within a specific timeline.  In this connection, I extend my gratitude to all who contributed to the conclusion of this Memorandum, particularly our host in Sharm el-Sheikh, President Hosni Mubarak and also King Abdullah II and Secretary of State Albright, who undertook tangible efforts as a representative of President Clinton, and the European leaders and their representatives and envoys to the peace process.  The continuous involvement of these friends in this process has been an essential matter, necessary for pushing it forward.  International sponsorship for the Middle East peace process is the guarantee for its definite success.

 The absence of such an international role would reverse the fragile situation in the region to point zero.  I, therefore, call upon the international community to accelerate and strengthen its efforts and participation to push the peace process forward and revitalize it on all tracks.   A permanent peace in the Middle East is a just and comprehensive one.  This peace will last if it is guarded by international legitimacy and if efforts are undertaken to implement all of the resolutions pertaining to the Middle East conflict on the Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese tracks.

 We should work so that the signing of this Memorandum will succeed in bringing an end to the stagnation of the peace process and in opening the door that the former Israeli government closed in the face of all serious efforts aimed at achieving real peace.  As we reaffirm once more our commitment to the peace process and the implementation of the agreements reached, we hope that this time the Israeli side will undertake the scrupulous and honest implementation of these agreements, including the phases of redeployment agreed upon in the Wye River and Oslo agreements, the release of prisoners, and the implementation of the other obligations of the transitional period, such as the safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the construction of the Gaza seaport. 

It is also demanded that the Israeli government immediately and decisively cease all of its measures which violate international resolutions, law and covenants and which destroy the chances for achieving peace.  At the forefront of such activities and measures are the settlement activities and the confiscation of land, especially in Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) and its surroundings, the siege of the city of Bethlehem and the rest of the Palestinian territories.   The continuation of these settlement policies and practices will severely diminish the hopes and expectations generated by the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum and destroy prospects for the final settlement negotiations, which began on the 13th of September.  The cessation of all such measures is needed so that we can, together with my new partner Mr. Barak, continue the march of the peace of the braves that we began with my partner, the late Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for this peace, and also with my partner Shimon Peres for a new Middle East. 

Hence, we look forward to experiencing new, real and tangible changes in the positions and actions of the Israeli side that will open the door, word and deed, for the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace - a peace of the braves that will lead to the realization of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of its independent state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital and the realization of the right of the Palestine refugees to return to their homeland in accordance with resolution 194, which affirmed the right of the refugees to return to their homes and to compensation for those who do not wish to return. 

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            The realization of the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital, will provide the definitive guarantee for the establishment of a permanent peace in the Middle East and will also be a validation of the Charter of the United Nations and its numerous resolutions for over fifty years, beginning with resolution 181, which called for the establishment of two States in Palestine, one Jewish, which is Israel, and one Arab, which is Palestine.   The rights of peoples do not diminish with the passage of the years or with oppression, and our people have proven throughout the long years that they deserve life and freedom and deserve an independent state. The time has come for the international community, represented by the General Assembly, to reaffirm this right and work for its realization.  The goal of the current peace process is the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 425 and the principle of land for peace – that is the total Israeli withdrawal from all the Palestinian and other territories occupied in 1967, including Al-Quds Al-Sharif, the Holy City of Jerusalem, the first of the two qiblahs and the third holy sanctuary of Islam, the place from which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) ascended to heaven, and the cradle of Jesus Christ (PBUH). 

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            The catastrophe that befell our people 51 years ago and uprooted them from their homeland and dispersed them into exile, stripping them of their rights as humans and their dreams and attempting to negate their existence, is one of the greatest human tragedies witnessed by the twentieth century.  The question of the Palestine refugees is the oldest and largest refugee question in our contemporary world.  We must recognize the legitimate right of those refugees to return to their homeland in accordance with United Nations resolutions.  Four million Palestinians live in exile and in refugee camps, awaiting the time of their return to their homeland, from which they were expelled by arms.  There is no way to achieve peace, stability and security in the Middle East without a solution for the question of the Palestine refugees and the implementation of resolution 194, which states their right to return to their homeland. 

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            For peace to be complete there are two essential issues.  First it is necessary to reach a final settlement on all tracks, the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese, on the basis of the complete and accurate implementation of international legitimacy, especially Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 425.  The second is the provision of support and economic assistance by the international community, sufficient for the achievement of a better economic situation and for achieving prosperity in the region.  What is required foremost in this regard is the lifting up of the Palestinian economy from the miserable situation within which it lies as a result of the long years of occupation, so that building cooperative economic relations in the region will become possible.  Here I wish to thank the donor countries that have provided, and continue to provide, important assistance to the Palestinian people and to the Palestinian Authority.  This assistance is imperative to enable us to overcome the immense difficulties that we have been confronting since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority as a result of the closures and sieges imposed by the previous Israeli government on the Palestinian territory for long periods, which further worsened the tattered situation of the Palestinian economy. The shadows of poverty and unemployment still threaten our abilities and plans to reconstruct, build and develop. 

            The achievement of all of the above necessitates the continuation of the constructive efforts of the United Nations, which has permanent responsibilities towards the question of Palestine until the question is resolved in all its aspects.  We will also remain in need of our Arab brothers, the Islamic countries and our friends in the Non-Aligned Movement.  We will remain in need of the two cosponsors of the peace process, the United States and the Russian Federation, and also of the European Union, China, Japan, Norway and other friends from all places in the world. 

Mr. President, 

            We must increase all efforts until the coming new millennium in many places and spheres and not only in the Middle East.  In this respect, we have observed some positive developments, which are reassuring.   There is tangible improvement in the area of conflict resolution on the African continent on the path towards achieving better economic and social development in this great continent.  There is the international attention given to Kosovo and other measures in the Balkans.  There is also the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as the additional consideration being given to the Four Geneva Conventions on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary.  We refer here, with appreciation, to the convening of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention last July regarding the Israeli occupation of our land.  Then there are the follow-ups that have been undertaken of the international conferences five years since their first convening, in addition to the preparations for important issues such as the Culture of Peace and the Dialogue Among Civilizations. 

            All of the above are important developments, but perhaps not enough for us to begin the new millennium with a new situation, particularly if we take a look at some events and worrisome developments at several levels.  There is the continuation of the situation of siege in Iraq and the deepening of the suffering of its brotherly people.  There is also the continuation of internal conflict in many countries such as Afghanistan and others.  Recently, there has also been the recent worrisome development in East Timor.  But I would like, in particular, to refer to the rise of extreme poverty and the widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots on the individual level and on the level of countries and regions.

 Mr. President, 

            Perhaps we, the poor people of the South, are mostly concerned by the way to bridge the gap between us and the North, particularly in this era of the globalization of the world economy, the challenges and consequences of which we all must face.   Here, we must exert serious efforts and seek creative means beyond hasty and temporary remedies.  While it is time for the South to be more prepared to strive for this achievement, the North should also be more prepared for partnership and a more realistic and just sharing. 

            In addition to matters at the economic level, we must also strive for some necessary improvements at the political level, particularly with regard to international political relations.  It is here in which the importance of ascribing greater significance to the United Nations by all of us arises.  This must be done in order for this body to truly become the effective center for international political relations and the source of international legitimacy.  It is also necessary to be wholly committed to upholding the principles and provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and international law and international humanitarian law, ensuring that it is applicable to all.  We should apply to others the same moral values that we accept for ourselves.  There should be one set of criteria and one standard for all cases and all places. All of this will lead to a more credible international relations system, in which the incentive to commit wrongs will be lessened and the collective capability to confront and prevent these wrongs will in turn be enhanced. 

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            I speak now with great pride of the Bethlehem 2000 celebrations.  The Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus Christ (PBUH), is where we are making preparations to celebrate the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third and where the past and the future will meet in Palestine in a global vision of hope for all peoples.  It is a religious and spiritual occasion of high importance not only for our people and the peoples of the region, but also for all the faithful around the world and the entire international community.  I appreciate your unanimous adoption last year of the resolution concerning this matter of great importance, and invite you to continue to grant it your attention and consideration this year.  Here, I wish to extend once more the invitation by our Palestinian people to you and to all the leaders of the world to visit us during this important historical and religious occasion in Bethlehem and Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) and the rest of the religious places so that we can live together in these fleeting times that we all cherish. 

Mr. President, 

            As I approach the end of my statement, I would like to extend gratitude to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and its Chairman, Ambassador Ibra Ka, as well as to the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices and to all the staff members of this international organization working with programs related to the question of Palestine.  They have all provided immeasurable support to the just cause of the Palestinian people and have undoubtedly contributed in pushing the peace process forward on the path towards the achievement of a just, permanent and comprehensive peace – a peace of the braves, which will secure justice and freedom for the Palestinian people and sovereignty over their land with security and stability and peace for all countries and peoples of the region. 

Mr. President, 

Once more, I express my congratulations to you and my gratitude to all the members of the international community, reiterating to you the appeal of Palestine - the appeal of righteousness, justice and peace.  Thank you, Mr. President.