Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Item 9: General Debate, 55th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, 19 September 2000, New York:

Mr.President,

At the outset, allow me to convey to you congratulations upon your election as President of this session of the General Assembly, expressing our full confidence in you and wishing you every success. This session has special importance for Palestine, and we hope that during its proceedings under your leadership historic steps for us will be taken. I would also like to thank H.E. Mr. Ben-Gurirab, the President of the 54th session, the fighter for freedom and the fighter for peace, for his excellent leadership over the past year. I would, of course, not miss the opportunity to also express our special thanks to H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for his effective leadership and his special interest in the situation in the Middle East and the peace process there.

As we meet following the Millennium Summit, it is incumbent upon us to seek to build upon its outcome, which begins with implementing the Millennium Declaration and considering it the guide for our work during the next era. This should be the case not only with regard to globalization and future social and economic issues, but also with regard to one of the main tasks not fully achieved during the past era - the achievement of self-determination by peoples under colonial domination and foreign occupation. This task will not be fully achieved until the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of the Palestinian State in accordance with international legitimacy. For us, this is the necessary step in order to place ourselves side by side with other Member States on the road to development, democracy, and prosperity and to allow us to carry our small share of responsibility towards the international community and its future tasks.

Mr. President,

As President Yasser Arafat mentioned in his address to the Millennium Summit, the Palestine Central Council met to consider the situation with the approach of the agreed date between the Palestinian and Israeli sides for reaching a final status agreement by 13 September, which was also the deadline of the agreed-upon extension of the five-year interim period that originally ended on 4 May 1999. The Palestine Central Council addressed this situation with a high-level of responsibility towards our people and towards the peace process and took a difficult decision seeking a balance between: the natural and historic right of the Palestinian people to their State, based on the partition resolution 181 and in accordance with the Declaration of Independence of 1988 and our right to establish this State at the end of the interim period, on the one hand; and guarding what some have called the last chance for the peace process and for reaching an agreement between the two sides through an additional extension and the decision to continue the negotiations for the next five or six weeks on the other hand. The Council decided to delay the establishment of the State and at the same time mandated the Executive Committee and the Presidency of the Palestinian National Council and the Legislative Council to take the necessary steps in this regard, including completion of the constitutional declaration and the laws for presidential and parliamentary elections and the submission of application for membership of the State of Palestine in the United Nations, followed by a report on these steps to the Central Council not later than this coming 15th of November, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

This decision means first of all the desire and commitment to reach an agreement with the Israeli side if the other side possesses the required readiness. Secondly, it means the agreement by the Palestinian side to postpone the establishment of the State, not only until the end of the transitional period and its extension, but until the end of the realistic opportunity of achieving a possible final agreement at the present time. We believe that no one can ask us beyond that to accept the continuation of the present transitional situation, which is impossible to endure. We further believe that all states, including those that have advised us to postpone, understand this, and will thus be ready to provide the necessary support for our steps, including support for the application of membership of Palestine in the United Nations.

Mr. President,

The arrival of the current Israeli government was coupled with a positive cacophony that led to increased hope for the rapid and honest implementation of the agreements signed between the two sides towards achieving a final agreement in the agreed time. We honestly wanted to believe this and dealt with this government positively and with full commitment to the agreements. But the stubborn realities began to force themselves on the ground regardless of the wishes and the artificial cacophony. The current government did not implement any of the provisions of the agreements except those provisions that the prior government explicitly committed itself to implementing in the Wye River Memorandum of October 1998. This government did not carry out redeployment from one centimeter more than what Mr. Netanyahu had committed himself to implementing and it also failed to carry out the third redeployment. Illegal settlements, which are also destructive to the peace process, continued even in Jabal Abu Ghneim, which was the reason that the General Assembly convened the 10th Emergency Special Session. A number of other illegal measures and practices also continued, creating a negative and tense climate. Amidst all of this, final status negotiations started and we witnessed Israeli foot-dragging and procrastination that we could not understand, leading to more doubts and tension.

Then came the Camp David Summit, which we advised needed thorough preparation before its convening, something not accepted by the Israeli side. Despite everything, the Summit represented a very important opportunity to move into a new serious phase of negotiations through the personal involvement of President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State and the rest of his team. We highly appreciate the efforts exerted for the success of the Summit. On our part, we have exerted every effort in the same direction, however we believe that the unreadiness of the Israeli side to comply with the terms of reference and the basis of the peace process was the reason preventing the success of these efforts.

In the wake of the Summit, a campaign was carried out by some parties and some biased media organizations in order to absolve the Israeli side from its responsibility and to place undue pressure on the Palestinian side. For example, some say that the Israeli side has moved from its original positions during the negotiations more than the Palestinian side has. This is factually incorrect, in addition to being the wrong yardstick. It is incorrect because the Palestinian side has moved from its original positions much more than the Israeli side, but it did so with the start of the peace process and the acceptance of the basis of this process. The Palestinian side has accepted, despite the historic injustice, to establish its State in accordance with the partition resolution, which gave us less than half of mandated Palestine, and has accepted Security Council resolution 242 (1967) as the basis for settlement, which gives us less than a fourth of mandated Palestine. Is there a more historic concession than this? Is it possible to forget this and only look at positions taken during the Camp David negotiations in isolation from the past?

Additionally, this is the wrong yardstick since the appropriate yardstick should be the proximity of the sides to the agreed basis of the peace process and their commitment to Security Council resolution 242 (1967), the implementation of which is the goal of the peace process, and not the extent of their movement from original positions, especially if these positions were illegal and irrational. Needless to say, the Palestinian side has fully adhered to this resolution and has never attempted to circumvent it, whereas the Israeli side has never stopped from pursuing positions violating this resolution and aiming at usurping more Palestinian land and rights.

Let's have another look at the positions of the parties vis--vis some specific issues so that you may all be aware of the details of the situation. With regard to Jerusalem, the first qiblah and the third of the holy sanctuaries and the cradle of Jesus Christ, the other side claims that it made real concessions while the Palestinian side has not. It also claims that we have not shown enough sensitivity towards sites holy to the Jewish religion. All of this is incorrect. The signed agreements state that Jerusalem will be an issue for negotiation, which means the whole of Jerusalem, i.e. Occupied East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, which is under de facto Israeli control. From our side, we have accepted that West Jerusalem be under Israeli sovereignty and the capital of Israel. We have demanded the end of the occupation of East Jerusalem for it to be under Palestinian sovereignty and the capital of Palestine. We have accepted that the city be open and have accepted all kinds of guarantees for the freedom of conscience, worship and access to all holy places under Palestinian sovereignty. In return for this flexibility, Israel is not satisfied with recognized sovereignty over West Jerusalem, but seeks also to usurp parts of Occupied East Jerusalem.

With regard to the Jewish holy places, we fully respect their sacredness and the Islamic religion recognizes the three monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity in addition to Islam, and recognizes their Prophets. Thus, we have shown every flexibility, even with regard to those places on lands in Occupied East Jerusalem, to which resolution 242 is applicable. We have accepted that the Western Wall of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which is known to the Arabs and Muslims as Al-Buraq Wall and is known to the Israelis and Jews as the Wailing Wall, be placed under Israeli control, in light of its sacredness to Judaism and consistent with the situation since the British Mandate on Palestine. In return for this flexibility, Israel seeks not only sovereignty over the Western Wall, but further challenges our sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif and seeks to maintain some form of sovereignty over it, something which will not be accepted by any Palestinian, Arab or Muslim leader, not now, not in the future. We have recently taken a major additional step in this regard by indicating our readiness to accept a certain mechanism for ensuring that no excavations will be conducted under Al-Haram Al-Sharif or even our readiness to accept Muslim sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif through the Al-Quds Committee of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). This represents the utmost that can be done in terms of dealing with an Arab and Muslim trust on Palestinian land.

With regard to another important issue, namely the Palestine refugees and their rights, the Palestinian side has upheld their rights in accordance with international law, like any other refugees in the world, and in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, in particular resolution 194, including their right to return and to compensation. At the same time, we have shown readiness to accept specific implementation mechanisms to be agreed upon. In return for this flexibility, Israel refuses to recognize its responsibility for this human tragedy and refuses to recognize the rights of the refugees, including their right to return, and wants to only compensate them, and even that, at the expense of others and not in its capacity as the party that seized their lands and properties.

The third important issue is the issue of settlements and borders. We have affirmed that settlements are illegal and must be brought to an end on Palestinian lands. Further, Israel must withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949, which are commonly known as the lines of 4th of June. At the same time, and in order to resolve some of the demographic problems illegally created by Israel, we have shown readiness to accept changes in the border on the basis of full reciprocity. In return for this flexibility, Israel attempts to appropriate more land and annex parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. However, we have a general feeling, or at least we hope that, the differences on this issue and the remaining issues are less sharp than the differences I indicated regarding the previous two issues, and hopefully this might signify a real change in the Israeli position regarding all the issues.

We have not lost hope yet. We are still committed to the peace process and to serious and continuous negotiations during the coming weeks. We want to believe that the Israeli positions are tactical positions and that the Israeli side will in the end abide by the agreed basis of the peace process. We want an agreement, an agreement that removes us from the cycle of confrontation and carries forth the two sides, the entire region and its future generations to a new era. But such an agreement must be balanced, reasonable and based on international law and the basis of the peace process. This requires continuation of the necessary efforts and unbiased support of the two co-sponsors of the peace process, especially the United States of America, and by other concerned parties in the region, the European Union and interested parties throughout the world. We are ready and we look forward to such an historic agreement between the two states of Palestine and Israel.

Mr. President,

During the Millennium Summit a lot of great things were said about the United Nations and its role in the past and in the future. We totally agree, and we add that the United Nations is indispensable when it comes to the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. We have always reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until it is effectively solved in all its aspects, and we have always called for more engagement of the United Nations in the Middle East peace process, while others have attempted to exclude it and neutralize it. Now, and during this coming decisive period, our conviction is stronger that the United Nations and its role will acquire more importance under all circumstances. If we arrive at a dead end, God forbid, despite all that we have offered and done for the success of the peace process, then we will come to you and we expect to receive your protection and support. We will work for the achievement of membership and we will work to enhance the resolutions of the United Nations and the established committees and the relevant programs so that all might form an additional boost for the achievement of our people's legitimate rights, including their right to establishment of their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, after all this long anguish.

If our hope is fulfilled and we are successful in reaching a final agreement with our neighbors, then we also expect that the need for the United Nations and its organs will be greater. The responsibility of the United Nations in all its forms will continue until the end of implementation and there will be a need to legitimize some aspects of the agreement and maybe to complement them. There will also be a need for U.N. assistance during the implementation period with regard to numerous aspects, in particular with regard to the refugees, including continuation of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). We will propose then in this regard in specific reactivation of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which was established by resolution 194 and is composed of the United States, France and Turkey, and use of the records of the Commission related to land ownership in Palestine. These records were modernized by the United Nations Secretariat in cooperation with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and are now operational. In any case then, the need for the United Nations will increase and we call for preparedness.

Mr. President,

There are other aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict that must be resolved in order for a comprehensive peace to be completed in the region. In this context, we reaffirm the necessity of reactivating the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace process and reaffirm the necessity for Israel to accept the principle of full withdrawal from the Occupied Syrian Arab Golan to the line of 4th of June. We are in solidarity with our sister country Syria and support its just demands, including Israeli adherence to the terms of reference of the peace process.

We also express our great happiness for the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon and we congratulate the fraternal Lebanese people on the liberation of their territories and support their other demands regarding the achievement of peace between Lebanon and Israel. In this context, we affirm our agreement with regard to rejecting the resettlement of the Palestine refugees in Lebanon and the need for them to return to their homes, and, until then, we expect that they will experience normal living conditions.

At the same time, with regard to Arab national security and the principle of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, we reaffirm the necessity for Israel to accede to the NPT and to put all its nuclear facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We also support the attempts aimed at establishing a region free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and believe this is an essential condition for establishing a new situation in the region, which we all seek to achieve.

In the wider Arab region, the suffering of the Iraqi people is still a source of real concern for us and we call for a speedy end to their suffering. We call for the complete end of sanctions against sisterly Libya and brotherly Sudan. We also call for the peaceful settlement of the three islands between the UAE and Iran in a way that preserves the rights of the UAE in these islands. We also express our happiness for the recent steps in Somalia and express our hope that the stability and reconciliation process will continue.

We reaffirm the need for all efforts to resolve the problems that surround us, including, inter alia, Cyprus, the problems of the great African continent, particularly the Horn of Africa, the Republic of Congo and some of the surrounding countries. The resolution of these problems will represent an important contribution towards placing that Continent on the road to development and progress.

Mr. President,

Before I conclude, I must express once again our deep thanks to our brothers and friends every where and particularly to the fraternal Arab countries, Islamic countries and the Non-Aligned and all other friends for their principled and continuous support... Let this year be the year of bringing an end to the historic injustice that has befallen our people, and let it be a new beginning for life in the Middle East for all its States and all its peoples and all future generations.

Thank you, Mr. President.