President Arafat to U.N. General Assembly: We Look Forward to Palestine’s Participation in the Millennium Summit as a Member State of the United Nations

President Yasser Arafat visited the United Nations from 22 to 23 September 1999 to participate in the General Debate of the General Assembly for the second consecutive year.  President Arafat’s participation in that debate began last year following the upgrade of Palestine at the U.N. through the adoption of resolution 52/250 of 7 July 1998.

 The President of the General Assembly for the 54th Session, H.E. Dr. Theo Ben-Gurirab, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Namibia, introduced President Arafat to the General Assembly. He was accorded most of the treatment reserved for Heads of State visiting the Assembly and was warmly received by the delegates present in the General Assembly Hall.  This visit marked the fourth time that President Arafat has addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

 Aside from his participation in the General Debate, President Arafat had bilateral meetings with several Heads of States and Foreign Ministers during his visit.  A formal luncheon was also held in his honor, which was attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-Generals of the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, several Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors and members of the Palestinian delegation. Further, on Wednesday, 22 September, he addressed a gathering at the Council on Foreign Relations.  This was followed by a reception hosted in President Arafat’s honor by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, H.E. Ambassador Ibra D. Ka, at the United Nations.  President Arafat left New York following his address to the General Assembly, after which he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Clinton.

 The following are excerpts from President Arafat’s address before the General Debate of the 54th Session of the General Assembly:

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…

…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… 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…  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.

As you know, we concluded with Mr. Barak, the new Prime Minister of Israel, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on the 4th of September… 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…

…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 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 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.

…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.

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… 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.

…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.

…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…

…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…  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)…