to the United Nations,
on Agenda Item 37: The Situation in the Middle East
New York, December 2, 2003
For much of the last decade, the peoples of the Middle East looked to the future with great optimism. For the first time since World War II, nations and individuals allowed themselves to dream that the conflicts that had raged for so long, and claimed so many innocent lives, could be rendered relics of history. They believed that we were entering an exciting new era, where conflict would yield to cooperation and the opportunities of a brave new world would replace history’s bickering over land and resources.
Today, much of that optimism and excitement has dissipated in the ominous smoke that inevitably rises from the region’s ever more numerous suicide attacks and terrorist bombs. Fear and worry have replaced the hope that once prevailed. We now stand in danger of raising a new generation resigned to the reality of endless war.
We know from our own history, however, that this need not be. While war and terrorism has characterized much of the Middle East in the last century, it is not the only path available to us. There is an alternative path – the path of dialogue and reconciliation, based upon the respect for the rights of all States and an unshakable commitment to non-violence and mutual recognition.
It was this commitment that enabled Israel to conclude peace treaties with two of our neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. These landmark events, which were the product of negotiations with truly brave Arab leaders, paved the way for the improvement of our relations with other States in the region, gave impetus to the bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, generated bilateral and multilateral regional economic cooperation, and promoted the signing of Israel-Palestinian interim agreements which were intended to inaugurate an historic course of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. They also demonstrated conclusively that only a negotiated settlement, not endless UN General Assembly resolutions, can bring peace to the region and prosperity to its peoples.
The hope generated by the Middle East peace process was founded on a simple yet profound notion – mutual recognition. When there is mutual recognition of the legitimacy and rights of all peoples and States in the region, the path of negotiations necessarily replaces the path of violence and imposed solutions. It is only when one denies this legitimacy, that violence and terrorism becomes an acceptable means to achieve one’s goals.
Israel proved then, and reiterates today, that it respects the legitimate rights of all peoples in the Middle East, including of course, the rights of the Palestinian people. We are ready to implement the Road Map, as envisioned by President Bush in his visionary speech of June 24, 2002, and engage in genuine negotiations with our neighbors to reach a just and lasting settlement. But the message we have received in return, from the barrage of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, from the virulent incitement and antisemitism that plagues much of our region, from the funding, support and glorification of murder as martyrdom, and from the endless resort to blatantly one-sided resolutions and selective treatment of Israel at the UN, is crystal clear. If one wants to really understand the causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict, one need look no further than the continuing refusal of too many countries in the region to recognize the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancient homeland, side by side with their Arab neighbors. It is this rejection that feeds the aggression demonstrated against Israel. And it is this rejection that has compelled Israel to focus on self-preservation and the protection of its citizens.
For all the suffering caused to Israeli citizens by this policy of rejectionism and terrorism, the suffering and despair it has brought to Arab societies is in many ways just as tragic. For Israel this policy, while it has caused untold hardship, has also taught us how to defend ourselves. It has hardened our resolve and our dedication to protect the welfare of Israel’s citizens and our legitimate rights, and it has encouraged a spirit of innovation and creativity in Israeli society that has made Israel a world leader in a wide variety of technological, scientific, agricultural and social fields.
For many states in the Arab world, the deadly combination of support for terrorism and repressive and non-democratic rule, has not only failed to deliver any political gains, it promises only hopelessness and despair for Arab societies. The Arab world that has so much to offer humanity, and that was, and must be again, a leader in many positive developments in scientific and human realms throughout world history, has been set drastically off course by this terrible alliance between terror and tyranny. Terrorism is the enemy of the untapped potential of the men and women of Arab societies, at least as much as it is the enemy of the innocent victims around the world which it so callously targets. The Arab world in general, and Palestinian society in particular, serve as tragic proof that it is no poverty that breeds terror, but terror that breeds poverty.
We can, if we wish, pretend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the cause of all that is wrong in the Middle East. We can pretend that illiteracy, the lack of development, and the terrible deficit in freedom and democracy from Yemen to Syria are all a product of Israel’s policy of countering the terrorism that targets its citizens. No doubt we will hear that tired accusation made again and again in today’s debate. But too often the mantra of ‘root causes’ and of ‘occupation’ is invoked in the United Nations to justify the unjustifiable and morally bankrupt strategy of terrorism, rather than to really understand the problems plaguing our region. It is designed to obscure not to illuminate – to serve as a pretext for repressive rule. It fundamentally confuses symptom and cause.
If we want to truly get to the heart of understanding and improving the situation in the Middle East, we must look to the lack of democratic values and institutions. We must look to extremism, fundamentalism and intolerance. We must look to incitement, antisemitism and the rejection of the rights of others. We must look to the repression of women, the rampant corruption, the lack of transparency and the culture of lies. It is these factors, more than any others, that feed terrorism and war-mongering, that prevent self-reflection and personal responsibility, that endanger and impoverish all the peoples of the region, and that block the achievement of a dignified and lasting peace. Democracies do not make war with one another, and they do not sponsor terrorism against their own or each other’s citizens.
If we are to honestly consider the situation in the Middle East, we must, sadly, admit, that while large parts of the world have discovered democracy over the past few decades, the Middle East, and especially the Arab world, has remained a dam of tyranny against the waves of democracy, and an island of poverty in a sea of prosperity. These factors nourish and sustain much of the terrorism that has targeted innocents from Bali to Istanbul, and from New York to Jerusalem and will continue to do so. These factors, and the fundamentalist mindset from which they originate, have also prevented the creation of a political and cultural environment in which genuine peace and concessions are possible.
But these factors also led to a Middle Eastern catastrophe in the last century that has been too long denied its rightful place on the international agenda, which I would like to briefly draw attention to today: the systematic persecution of Jews in Arab countries.
While the history of the 20th century reveals a consistent, widespread pattern of state-sanctioned discrimination, antisemitism and persecution of Jewish minorities by Arab regimes, upon the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the status of Jews in Arab countries changed dramatically for the worse. As virtually all Arab countries declared war, or backed the war against Israel, Jews were either uprooted from their countries of residence or became subjugated, political hostages of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In virtually all cases, as Jews were forced to flee, individual and communal properties were seized and/or confiscated without any compensation provided by the Arab governments involved, in clear violation of international human rights norms.
While history clearly reveals that there were major population movements that occurred during these years of turmoil in the Middle East, the fact that there were actually more Jews uprooted from Arab countries than there were Palestinians Arabs who became refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, has been conveniently forgotten.
The legitimate rights of former Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries is an issue that has not yet been adequately addressed by the international community. Since 1947, there have been over 681 UN resolutions on the Middle East conflict, including 101 that refer directly to the plight of Palestinian refugees. Not one of these resolutions even mentions the plight of Jewish refugees, let alone calls for action to address their suffering.
If we are to address fairly the situation of the Middle East, the plight of these Jewish refugees can no longer be forgotten. No comprehensive Middle East peace settlement can be reached without recognition of, and redress for, the legitimate rights Jews displaced from Arab countries.
In our annual statement on this item we have usually drawn attention to the specific policies of certain regimes in the region that continue to foster acts of terrorism and advocate aggression against Israel and its citizens. We have spoken of the danger posed by terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and of the extensive support, safe harbor, and financing they receive from countries such as Iran, Syria and Lebanon. The destructive policies of these countries, and the grave threat posed by these regimes and by the terrifying combination of Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program, its hostile intentions, and its repressive regime, are well known to all delegates and to the world at large. The fact that these countries continue to sponsor terrorism, even as the world has united to combat it, remains a serious strategic threat to international peace and security.
But today we would like to focus on hope rather than danger. We believe that the peoples of the Middle East are no less entitled to democratic, transparent and enlightened rule than the rest of the world’s citizens. And we choose to believe that, sooner or later, a leadership will develop and emerge in the region that will guarantee prosperity, freedom, dignity and peace for all. We sincerely hope that the potential for positive change that has been ignited in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in some other countries in the region, will usher in a new era of hope and peace in the Middle East.
Israel prays for the prosperity and progress of our neighbors in the region. We hope that all citizens in the Middle East will be able to live in safety, security, dignity and freedom within their own sovereign states. And we remain ready to work together with all States in the region to achieve not just a peace and a normalization of relations, but to jointly advance all the fields of human endeavor for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.
Thank you, Mr. President.
||Statement by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, on Agenda Item 38: The Question of Palestine – Dec 2, 2003|