Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Agenda Item 38: Question of Palestine, 6 May 2004:

 

 

Mr. President,

 

            The issue before the General Assembly today represents an important matter, legally and politically.  In light of recent developments, it represents a necessary and basic affirmation by the international community of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to sovereignty over the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a rejection of any claims of Israeli sovereignty over this territory.  In accordance with the rules and principles of international law and this must be the fundamental basis upon which the international community addresses all issues and matters before it - these rights are constant and cannot be altered or voided with the passage of time or because of changes on the ground.

 

Such a clear affirmation by the Assembly has always been needed, but it has become more urgent in light of recent attempts to confer legitimacy on and to entrench Israels illegal Israeli expansionist designs and measures, including on some of its illegal settlements, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Moreover, as the text of the draft resolution before delegations states, the Assemblys action today is intended as a contribution to the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East, resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent States, Israel and Palestine, based on the Armistice Line of 1949 and living side by side in peace and security.

 

Clearly, adherence to the basic rule and principles of international law as well as to the Charter and to the relevant resolutions of the United Nations are imperative for the ultimate attainment of such a peace settlement.  The Middle East peace process is founded on such principles and resolutions and this must serve as the context within which a solution to this tragic conflict is found it cannot be achieved in a vacuum, absent international law and determined only by the grave imbalance of power.

 

Mr. President,

 

            The Palestinian side long ago took the historic decision necessary for the achievement of peace by accepting the existence of Israel and accepting a solution to the conflict based on two States along the Armistice Line of 1949, known also as the 1967 borders.  Since then, the only reason for the continuation of the conflict and of bloodshed and suffering has been Israels effective rejection of that solution and its continuing occupation of, and expansionist designs on, the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.  Israel, the occupying Power, has relentlessly colonized our land, continuously building and expanding its illegal colonial settlements on confiscated Palestinian land and attempting to unlawfully acquire by force even more and more of that land, including by the ongoing construction of its expansionist Wall, which far from being intended for security is aimed at protecting and entrenching those illegal settlements as part and parcel of Israels decades-long colonial campaign.  All of this has been carried out by Israel with impunity and blatant contempt and disregard for international law and relevant U.N. resolutions as a result of the protection and encouragement accorded to it by a great power and appeasement by some others, allowing it to persist with and even escalate its unlawful policies and practices.

 

The occupying Powers pursuit of such illegal policies and practices has ensured the continued denial and violation of our national rights, including our right to self-determination and to the achievement of our independent State, Palestine.  Even after the current Israeli government agreed on the so-called vision of two States, it did so while still intending to illegally acquire mores of our land and while still refusing to accept the existence of a truly sovereign and viable State of Palestine.

 

That is why the Sharon government continues to pursue settlement activities and why it continues to construct the expansionist Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to attempt the de facto annexation of more of our land.  And, that is why it continues with its measures to destroy the Palestinian Authority and continues to imprison and threaten the safety of the President of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Palestinian people.  That is why it has continued with its reign of terror over the Palestinian people - war crimes and innumerable other violations of international law are being committed daily by the occupying Power as it continues to kill and wound civilians, including women and children, and to wantonly destroy Palestinian homes, properties and land.  That is why it has undermined and preempted all initiatives to end the disastrous situation that has prevailed over the past three years and why it has now come up with the so-called unilateral disengagement plan.

 

Mr. President,

 

            The issue is the land and the military occupation of that land for nearly thirty-seven years. The issue is the land and the illegal expansionist designs of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights.  It is about Israels refusal to end this occupation and refusal to adhere to international law, seeking all the while instead to acquire more land by force and to eliminate more of the indigenous people as it carries out its unlawful and unjust policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, without constraint.

 

Israel is doing this, while it has not even resolved the issue of the ownership of land and properties in Israel itself.  There are 5.5 million dunums[1] of land privately owned by the Palestine refugees, all of which has been identified and registered by the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine.  This ownership needs to be recognized by Israel and, in accordance with international refugee law, its restitution must be an essential element of any settlement of the Palestine refugee problem.  Those 5.5 million dunums represent almost half of the land of Israel, if we exclude the Negev desert.  Indeed, the situation before us is starkly clear - not only has Israel taken over this privately-owned land instead of restituting it to its rightful Palestinian owners, but it proceeds with the colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and with its attempts to annex large parts of that territory. 

 

Mr. President,

 

            On the 14th of April, a disturbing and negative development took place in the form of an exchange of letters and assurances between Prime Minister Sharon of Israel and President Bush of the United States. The content of those letters violates international law, as reaffirmed in numerous Security Council resolutions, and violates the rights of the Palestinian people.  It represents an attempt to confer legitimacy on some of Israels illegal settlements in the Occupied Territory, to negate the rights of the Palestine refugees and to weaken international opposition to the catastrophic and unlawful expansionist Wall.  The content is also in departure from the terms of reference of the Middle East peace process and the United Nations resolutions and principles of international law within which the process is rooted.  It is also in complete departure from the Road Map and its substance as well as the principle of achieving a peaceful settlement through negotiations between the two parties and refraining from any actions that preempt final status issues.

 

            Even with regard to Gaza, the Israeli proposal, as reflected in the letters exchanged, falls far short of any real withdrawal, keeping control of international borders, airspace and water in the hands of the occupier and maintaining the so-called right to military intervention or attacks against Gaza.  In sum, rather than actually being a real and complete withdrawal from Gaza, it is an attempt to seal Gaza off from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the rest of the world and finalize its transformation into a densely-packed prison for the more than 1.2 million Palestinians living there.

 

            In light of all of this, it seemed that the Road Map could not be implemented and that the work of the Quartet would be extremely difficult to continue.  Some, however, say that we might still have a chance to save the Road Map and that a real and complete withdrawal from Gaza might be an opportunity towards actually reviving it.

 

            We would more than welcome the success of such an optimistic view.  But for this to happen, several elements are required, including: First, the unqualified reaffirmation by the Quartet of commitment to the Road Map, including its terms of reference.  Second, that any Israeli withdrawal, including from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, be real, complete and non-reversible and that an international presence or monitoring mechanism be established as proposed.  A third essential element must be a reaffirmation of the necessity for a complete cessation of settlement activities and the cessation of the construction of the Wall.  This is, of course, a central requirement, without which positions will remain theoretical and might even represent a cover for Mr. Sharons plans to illegally acquire large areas of the West Bank.  With the Wall there can be no Road Map and with the Wall there can be no hope for any peace.  The Wall makes the two-State solution both practically and physically impossible to attain and that is why the issue is now before the International Court of Justice, the most important development thus far in terms of a response by the international community to this grave violation and breach.

 

Mr. President,

 

            The outcome of the meeting of the Quartet, two days ago on 4 May, is welcome although inconclusive.  It was indeed significant that the Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to the Road Map and to the terms of reference for a negotiated peace settlement, including Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, the terms of reference of the Madrid peace process, the principle of land for peace, previous agreements and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit.

 

            With regard to Gaza, the Quartet affirmed the necessity of a full Israeli withdrawal and a complete end to the occupation in Gaza.  This is also welcome, although this is not Sharons intention in accordance with his unilateral disengagement plan, and it remains to be seen how this will be actualized in terms of the clear position taken by the Quartet.

 

Unfortunately, at this stage, we cannot speak as positively about the third required element when it comes to the position taken by the Quartet.  In this regard, we reiterate that the need for the complete cessation of all settlement activities as well as the complete cessation of the Wall must be clearly affirmed by the Quartet for such cessation is essential for salvaging the Road Map and the two-State solution.

 

In sum, the outcome of the Quartets meeting could serve as a good point for restarting the work of the Quartet.  More work, however, is obviously needed to bring further clarity and to overcome the damage incurred.  From our side, I wish to reiterate our commitment to implementing our obligations under the Road Map and to resuming negotiations at any time.  At the same time, we also believe that it would be a good thing for the Quartet to involve the Security Council, considering its Charter authority and its responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security.

 

Mr. President, 

 

            The choice now is between the rule of international law or attempts to impose a de facto illegal situation.  It is between a real two-State solution, a real State of Palestine in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, or the imprisonment of the Palestinian people in walled Bantustans on half of their land and then try to call it a State.  It is between a solution that achieves justice, albeit relatively, or a charade that can only lead to the continuation of violence and suffering.  We choose and we believe the international community chooses the same the rule of international law and a genuine and viable two-State solution.  We choose justice and peace.



[1] 1 dunum = 1,000 square meters