Palestine Participates in General Debate for the First Time

President Arafat to General Assembly:

Palestinian State Must Be Established

Palestine participated for the first time in the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. President Yasser Arafat traveled to New York on 26 September 1998, and his visit to U.N. Headquarters was arranged for the main purpose of participating in the General Debate at the opening of the 53rd session of the General Assembly. This marked the first time in the history of the U.N. that an entity that is not a Member State of the U.N. participated in the General Debate. Further, Palestine’s participation was without restriction with regard to speaking order in the debate, and it represented one of the results of General Assembly resolution 52/250, which upgraded Palestine’s representation at the U.N.

President Arafat addressed the General Assembly plenary on behalf of Palestine during the afternoon of Monday, 28 September 1998. The meeting was presided over by the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Didier Opertti, with the attendance of the Secretary-General of the U.N., H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan. President Arafat was received very warmly by the Assembly, and was accorded the same protocol treatment accorded to him in the General Assembly in 1974 and 1988. He was introduced as the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the elected President of the Palestinian Authority. The following are excerpts from President’s Arafat statement on that momentous day:

For the first time, Palestine participates in the opening of the U.N. General Assembly under the agenda item "General debate". This participation is a manifestation of the resolution adopted by your esteemed Assembly on the upgrade of Palestine’s representation at the U.N., which we consider to be an essential step towards full membership. I would like, at this time, to express the deep gratitude of the Palestinian people to all Member States that supported this resolution by an overwhelming majority. They have reflected the will of the countries and peoples of the world for the need to realize justice for the Palestinian people, to restore their international status and their seat at the U.N.

…As we approach the end of the twentieth century…all of the rapid changes that have stormed our contemporary world require the necessary enhancement of our collective work within the framework of the U.N… At this stage, we welcome the creation of the International Criminal Court, which is considered to be an important step towards the enhancement of the law and towards bringing an end to the atrocities and crimes being committed against humanity.

All of these challenges and responsibilities should not prevent us from recalling that many of the basic tasks of the international community in our contemporary world have not yet been accomplished. There are peoples who still remain under foreign occupation, including our Palestinian people, who have been, and continue to be, exposed to one of the gravest injustices. This great people did not commit a crime; they did not commit aggression against anyone; they did not occupy the land of any other people. However, they were the victims of aggression; their land was occupied; they were dispersed and forced by military power to a life in diaspora and exile. There are still 4 million Palestinian refugees living in camps, awaiting the realization of international justice and the implementation of resolutions of international legitimacy to do them justice and put an end to the tragedy of life in exile as refugees for more than a half century.

…It is important also to consider the issue of sanctions because of its terrible and destructive impact and effect on peoples and on neighboring states. Here I refer specifically to Iraq, Libya and Sudan. As we call for solutions to these problems and the lifting of sanctions on the basis of the implementation of Security Council resolutions, we cannot but express the feeling of many of us concerning the use of double standards in implementing this principle. In this regard, I would like to express our satisfaction about the progress that has been achieved in particular with regard to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Finally comes an issue that is extremely important, which is the issue of nuclear disarmament and weapons of mass destruction and non-proliferation. As we strongly support the goals of the international community in this regard, we refer in specific to the immense problem existing in our region – the possession by Israel of these weapons and its refusal to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and place its nuclear installations under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The small size of our region and its nature increase the frightening dangers stemming from the continuation of this situation. What occurred recently in South Asia must encourage all of us towards sincere cooperation and commitment to one standard with regard to this issue.

In order to accomplish all of this we need a U.N. that is more effective. We support the efforts exerted by many countries and the efforts of the Secretary-General in this regard. At the same time, we think, rather we believe, that our goal must go beyond reducing expenditures, downsizing the Secretariat, streamlining the General Assembly and expanding the Security Council, all of which are important issues. Our goal must go beyond that to achieve the complete democratization of this global organization. As such, it is necessary to enhance the role of the General Assembly and it is also necessary to find a solution for the veto issue in the Security Council, particularly the frequent and excessive use of it…

…Last May, the Palestinian people commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Al-Nakba, the dispossession and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Despite all of these bitter years, the oldest and largest refugee question in our contemporary world remains without solution and our land still suffers under occupation and colonial settlement. Its natural resources are being subject to exploitation and the city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif is still being subjected to judaization, land confiscation, demolition of homes, confiscation of identity cards from its inhabitants, imposition of demographic composition and artificial administrative measures. In addition is the isolation of the city of Bethlehem and the conflict occurring in Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the rest of the Palestinian cities. Eight million Palestinians are still being deprived of their right to exercise sovereignty over their land like the rest of the peoples of the world.

Despite all of this, despite the long and grave suffering and pain, and after long and legendary steadfastness, our Palestinian people have been able to survive and preserve their national identity. Thus, our people chose the peace option and accepted the will of the international community in this regard. Accordingly, we decided with our Arab brothers to participate in the peace process, which began in Madrid in 1991. Then we took the well-known historical step leading to the Oslo Agreement with Israel, which was signed at the White House in Washington, D.C. on 13 September 1993. This development carried the promise of historic reconciliation and coexistence between the two peoples, the potential of a new Middle East and the beginning of the establishment of a comprehensive and permanent peace in the region. Indeed, all parties realized tangible achievements and the Palestinian people were able to start building their institutions and to deal with the destructive consequences of the long years of occupation. They experienced, in particular, the general elections and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. Despite all of the difficulties that confronted the process, the general trend continued to be forward progress until the peace process was dealt a severe blow by the assassination of the late Yitzhak Rabin, my partner in the peace process, the peace of the braves, by an Israeli extremist. This was followed by other blows resulting from the bombings and the grave deterioration of the living conditions of our people and deliberate acts to destroy the peace.

When the government of Benjamin Netanyahu took office in Israel, a new chapter began with its adoption of general political outlines that were not consistent with the existing agreements. The government publicly tried to get rid of the principles of the peace process, which are Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425 and the principle of land for peace. It ceased implementation of the existing agreements with the exception of the redeployment in Al-Khalil, which was achieved only after intensive American efforts. The Israeli government continued its evasion and ceased implementation of the obligations of the transitional period, which are of great importance to our people, including the safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the airport, the seaport, the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons, and the industrial zones…

…It is high time for the international community, in adherence with international law and in service to peace, to exert effective and tangible pressure on the Israeli side to realize those aims which serve peace, security and stability...

With the hope of halting the deterioration of the existing situation, the Palestinian side, in cooperation with many of the concerned parties, has sought to intensify efforts, particularly with the U.S. co-sponsor, and especially the efforts of President Clinton, for which we express our gratitude. These efforts resulted in the initiative which contained all of the important pending issues and which was submitted to the parties concerned. As you are aware, the Palestinian side accepted this American initiative despite the fact that it did not meet our just and legitimate demands. In return, the Israeli side still rejects this initiative and continues in its attempts to undermine it and preempt its contents…

…We have not lost hope in the peace process, and we will continue to implement our obligations in accordance with the existing agreements. At the same time, we will not give up on the need for Israeli compliance with those agreements and the implementation of their pending obligations without any delays or evasiveness. We will not give up our national rights nor will we give up the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people…

…It is so difficult to separate the U.N. from the question of Palestine, for this international organization has been dealing with our cause since its inception. It was the United Nations which partitioned Palestine and it has never ceased, until this time, to deal with the results of the events that followed, with the repeated and increasing injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people, for which no remedy has been found until now. As we reaffirm the permanent responsibility of the U.N. towards the question of Palestine, we urge you all to enhance your solidarity and support for our people in the coming period and through these critical circumstances, on the basis of the principles of the U.N. Charter, international law and international humanitarian law.

…We expect that the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention will be held before the end of this year on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, in accordance with the recommendations adopted repeatedly by the 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly. In the same context, we also expect the Israeli participation in the work of the 53rd session of the General Assembly to be in conformity with international law, thus ensuring that Israeli credentials do not cover the territories determined by the Security Council and the General Assembly as occupied Palestinian and Arab territories since 1967, including occupied East Jerusalem…

…It is not admissible for Israel to continue dominating the Palestinian people, and everyone is aware that 100% peace means 100% security and 100% freedom… I invite the Israeli government to engage in common serious work between us to address that. There is no alternative to peace… Help us to achieve it.