President Arafat Addresses General Assembly General Debate
In light of the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the general debate of the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly was rescheduled for November. President Yasser Arafat arrived in New York on 10 November to participate in the debate along with many other Heads of State and Government and high-ranking officials. He addressed the Assembly on the morning of 11 November, the second day of the weeklong debate, and also held several bilateral meetings during his two-day visit to the United Nations.
Among those that President Arafat met with during his visit were: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Khatimi of Iran, Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Fischer of Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Powell, Foreign Minister Martonyi of Hungary, President Musharraf of Pakistan, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Michel of Belgium, Foreign Minister Goff of New Zealand, President Mesic of Croatia and General Assembly President Seung-soo. He also attended a luncheon on Saturday hosted by the Secretary-General, as well as a reception on Sunday afternoon hosted in honor of President Arafat by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ambassador Fall of Senegal.
President Arafat’s speech to the General Assembly focused on the deterioration of the situation on the ground due to the continuing Israeli military campaign being waged against the Palestinian people and on the urgent need to resume peace negotiations towards the final and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, the content of his bilateral meetings also focused on these two crucial and pressing issues. He reiterated calls for the international community to intensify efforts to bring an end to the escalating crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, with the larger aim of reviving the peace process towards a definitive end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of the independent Palestinian State.
President Arafat emphasized the necessity for the involvement and support of the international community in the process, particularly the cosponsors of the peace process – U.S. and Russian Federation – and the European Union, China and Japan for the ultimate success of the process. He also stressed the importance of U.N. involvement in all such efforts, reaffirming the historic role and permanent responsibility of the organization until the question of Palestine is justly resolved.
Throughout his address to the Assembly, President Arafat repeatedly recalled the international legal basis for any just and permanent resolution of the conflict. In this regard, he stressed the need to implement, inter alia, Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the principle of land for peace, General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194, as well as the agreements signed between the two sides in the context of the peace process. Recognizing the current difficulties on the ground and the deadlock in the peace process, he indicated the importance of the Egyptian-Jordanian Initiative, the Tenet Plan and the Mitchell Report as starting points for calming the situation and getting the parties back to the negotiating table towards implementation of the above. He also reiterated Palestinian calls for a cease-fire and reaffirmed the Palestinian commitment to resuming peace negotiations for a final settlement with the Israeli side.
In his statement, President Arafat also touched on the issue of international terrorism, once again expressing condemnation of the horrific acts carried out on 11 September and conveying sympathy to President Bush, the American people and Government and the families of the victims.
In this regard, it is important to note that the overarching focus of the general debate of the 56th session of the General Assembly was the issue of international terrorism, with special emphasis on the tragic events of 11 September. The world leaders gathered at the U.N. expressed absolute condemnation of the horrific acts of 11 September in New York and Washington, D.C. and of international terrorism as a whole, vowing together to confront and defeat this menace.
At the same time, however, Members States expressed near unanimity regarding the need to seriously address other negative conditions throughout the world, including deteriorating economic conditions, poverty, disease and regional conflicts, specifically in the Middle East. References to the conflict in the Middle East overwhelmingly included calls for a revival of the peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian State, reflecting an international consensus on the need to resolve the question of Palestine.
Remarks made in the statement by President Cardoso of Brazil, who was the first speaker in the debate and seemed to set the tone in this regard, exemplified the international position on Palestine expressed by most of the representatives addressing the Assembly. He stated, inter alia, "Just as it supported the creation of the State of Israel, Brazil today calls for concrete measures towards the setting up of a Palestinian State that is democratic, united and economically viable. The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the respect for the existence of Israel as a sovereign, free and secure State are essential if the Middle East is to rebuild its future in peace. This is a moral debt owed by the United Nations. It is a task that must not be postponed."
Such a call was also made by the President of the United States during his address to the Assembly. Mr. Bush stated, "The American Government also stands by its commitment to a just peace in the Middle East. We are working toward a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions. We will do all in our power to bring both parties back into negotiations."
The following are a few excerpts from President Arafat’s statement to the General Assembly during its general debate: