to the United Nations,
on Agenda Item 38: The Question of Palestine
New York, December 2, 2003
The Arabic philosopher of the ninth century, Al-Kindy, imparted universal and timeless wisdom in these words, "We should not shy away from welcoming and acquiring the truth regardless of where it came from, even if it came from distant races and nations that are different from us. Nothing is more important than seeking the truth except the truth itself."
The truth today is brought to us in the form of a question: the ‘Question of Palestine’. Why is a state for the Palestinian people not yet a reality? Why do thousands of Israelis and Palestinians lie underground in early graves and on hospital beds with missing limbs and broken dreams?
Israel approaches this question as a state that supports of the aspirations of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a State which is ready to work to realize the vision of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. It asks this question not as a State that wishes to govern the Palestinians, but as a State that has actively sought to find workable ways for the Palestinian people to govern themselves.
In his speech of 4 June 2003 at the Aqaba Summit, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated the following:
"Israel, like others, has lent its strong support for President Bush’s vision, expressed on 24 June 2002, of two states – Israel and a Palestinian state – living side by side in peace and security. The government and people of Israel welcome the opportunity to renew direct negotiations according to the steps of the roadmap as adopted by the Israeli government to achieve this vision." Mr. Sharon has since repeated these sentiments, most recently in an interview appearing in Newsweek magazine just last week.
Today, however, after the current Palestinian leadership has produced countless missed opportunities to realize that very vision, repeated failures to comply with signed obligations, and recurring waves of violence and terrorism, it now seems that the ‘Question of Palestine’ is not a question about Israel’s acceptance of Palestinian self-determination or even a Palestinian state, but rather, a question of the Palestinian acceptance of the right of Israel to continue to exist as a state where the Jewish people can continue to concurrently realize their own right to self-determination, side by side with their Palestinian and Arab neighbors.
Over the recent decades, in which Israel has proven its willingness to advance a solution to the conflict taking the interests of both sides into account, the Palestinian leadership failed miserably to demonstrate its acceptance of the inherent legitimacy of the State of Israel or the right of its citizens to live in peace and security. The ‘Question of Palestine’ has been perpetuated, year after year, by ongoing rejection of Israel’s most basic security concerns, in a way which can only cast grave and irreconcilable doubts upon any professed Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish and democratic state in safety, security, peace and coexistence. Today the General Assembly, in an annual ritual of supreme irony, celebrates this Palestinian rejectionism, as is its custom, by taking up the Question of Palestine on the anniversary of the adoption of UNGA Resolution 181 (1947). In observing today’s deliberations, one can easily forget that, rather than accepting this resolution due to its proposal of an Arab state in part of the Mandate territory, the Arab world rejected it out of hand, for it contained a concomitant proposal of a Jewish state as well. Indeed, this General Assembly’s adoption of the ‘Partition Plan’ 56 years ago, precipitated a massive Arab invasion aimed at destroying the Jewish state before is was even established, in what the then UN Secretary-General called the first act of aggression since the establishment of the United Nations.
For this reason, I say to you that today we are debating not the Question of Palestine, but the Question of Israel.
For Israel, the ‘Question of Palestine’ is not a question at all. Throughout its history, Israel has demonstrated its willingness to compromise and make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of peace. When Israel met Arab leaders, like President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan – leaders who spoke the language of peace to their own people and were willing to take concrete steps for peace – Israel reached agreements with them and peace was achieved. From the Camp David Summit of 1978 to the Camp David Summit of 2000 and beyond, Israel has taken upon itself the responsibility to find solutions recognizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs and their just requirements, while at the same time, defending the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Israeli people.
For its part, however, the Palestinian leadership failed to demonstrate the same willingness to negotiate, compromise or take risks for peace. Nor has it shown that peace and self-determination are the aim of its political agenda. When, at the Camp David Summit of July 2000, Arafat rejected Israel’s proposal to establish a sovereign Palestinian state in over 95% of the West Bank and Gaza – and instead embarked on a campaign of terror against innocent men, women and children – it became undeniable that his goal was not peace, but Israel’s elimination. Had the Palestinian leadership chosen the path of negotiations and compromise at Camp David in the summer of 2000, Israelis and Palestinians would now be living in their own states, side-by-side in peace. Instead, the olive branch extended by Israel at Camp David was met with a hail of Palestinian gunfire and a barrage of suicide bombers. It may be convenient to forget this fact, but if we want to answer the ‘Question of Palestine’, if we truly want to understand how to resolve this conflict, we cannot in good faith ignore this stark reality. We cannot pretend that the vision now proclaimed to be the solution was not within easy reach, and rejected out of hand, not by Israel, but by the Palestinian side – proving once again that its leadership never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Unfortunately, at no time has the Palestinian leadership made good on its plethora of promises and pledges. In his signed agreements with Israel, Arafat undertook to resolve all issues through negotiations, stop all violence, arrest terrorists, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, collect illegal weapons and end incitement to violence. Yet in more than a decade since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PA has done almost nothing to fulfill these obligations, but has instead actively encouraged and supported terrorism. In these past ten years, over 1100 Israelis have been murdered in acts of terrorism (over 900 of them since September 2000).
Terrorism is not the tool of peacemakers and nation-builders. It is the tool of rejectionists and cowards. It seeks only to destroy and not to create. It is antithetical to the dream of a two-state solution. By creating alliances with brutal terrorist groups such as the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and by bankrolling the Fatah’s Tanzim and al-Aqsa Brigades, the Palestinian leadership has sent every Israeli, and every citizen of the world, a chilling message. It is a message that states: ‘Killing Israelis is more important to us than creating our own democratic state.’ It is a message that destroys any hopes for peace. It is a message that has also been exported globally, spreading the epidemic of terror world-wide, and making terrorism the single most successful Palestinian export product.
Today Mr. Arafat and his cronies have not only destroyed the hopes for peace but, through the engendering of rampant terrorism and violence, have brought grave socio-economic suffering upon the very people they purport to protect – demonstrating that it is not poverty that breeds terrorism, but terrorism that breeds poverty. Such a situation further confounds the ability of citizens to achieve self-determination, democratization and statehood. Just two weeks ago, a new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, declared, "The Road Map is not the bible – I will report to Arafat". This is a guaranteed recipe for failure, and we hope that, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, it is not pursued.
Israeli society sees peace as the noblest of goals and the highest of aspirations. The desire for peace and for tranquility lies at the very center of Israel’s cultural identity. The greatest dream of every mother and father envisages Israel living in harmony and cooperation with its Arab neighbors. If the Palestinian leadership shared our genuine interest in the creation of a Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with its neighbors, we would see a change in the way these leaders address their nation, in the way Palestinian teachers are told to teach their students, the way Palestinian police treat political dissenters and in the way the PA clergy inspire their followers. Peace requires a language and culture of peace, to replace the incitement and indoctrination that is so pervasive in our region. But that is not the reality we see today. Those Palestinians accused of cooperating with Israel are lynched in public squares, while those who kill themselves in suicide attacks against Israeli civilians are given unparalleled public praise in massive rallies and official ceremonies.
The international community cannot and will not countenance the establishment of yet another repressive, terrorist state in the Middle East. It is wrong for the Palestinian people, it is wrong for the region, and it is wrong for the world.
With the adoption of the Roadmap six months ago, the Government of Israel immediately began to implement measures meant to ease conditions for the Palestinian population, in anticipation of the Palestinian Authority’s fulfillment of its primary Roadmap obligation – to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Such concrete Israeli measures included:
- The transfer of Israeli security responsibility to the PA in Gaza and Bethlehem, and withdrawal of its forces from those areas;
- The release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in a confidence-building measure carried out above and beyond the terms of the Roadmap (some of whom, by the way, were later involved in the murder of Israeli civilians);
- The evacuation of many unauthorized outposts throughout the West Bank;
- The authorization of the daily entry of over 40,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza to employment wit in Israel, in a step to strengthen the economic situation of the Palestinian population;
- The authorization of the daily employment of an additional 15,000 workers in the special industrial parks located between Israel and the PA areas, giving a further boost to the Palestinian economy;
- The opening of shipping terminals allowing daily access for about 2,000 trucks carrying merchandise, produce and raw materials into and out of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel, Jordan and Egypt;
- The authorization of tourist entry into Bethlehem and Jericho, important sources of income for the Palestinian economy;
- The elimination of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza in order to improve freedom of movement for the Palestinian population;
- The extension of the Palestinian fishing zone out to 12 miles from the Gaza coast in order to strengthen this key economic sector.
The Palestinian leadership, however, did nothing to fulfill its fundamental Road Map obligation to fight the terrorist organizations, and the terrorists used every Israeli attempt to ease conditions of Palestinian daily life as an opportunity to renew their attacks on Israeli citizens. They took advantage of eased freedom of movement to smuggle fugitives, arms, mortar bombs, artillery rockets and even suicide belts between Palestinian villages and cities, and exploited the worker’s passage into Israel to infiltrate Israeli cities and carry out suicide attacks. Today, violence and terrorism persist unabated, the terrorist infrastructure remains intact, incitement is rampant, and terrorists are free to plan violent attacks on Israelis everywhere. In this reality, Israel has no choice but to focus on self-preservation and the protection of its citizens.
The situation as it exists today on the ground demonstrates better than any amount of rhetoric that the answer to the Question of Palestine lays, first and foremost, not with Israel but with the Palestinian leadership itself. It is the Palestinian side that repeatedly rejected a two-state solution based on genuine recognition and genuine compromise, and it is they that have yet to come to terms with it. Indicative of this crisis in leadership is the speaker who has chosen to appear today on behalf of the Palestinian people. Known for his diehard extremism, Farouk Kaddoumi has even refused to join his own people in the West Bank and Gaza, due to his rejection of the peace process which created the Palestinian Authority there in the first place. With such a leader, it is no wonder that the Palestinian Observer Mission is so out of touch with the reality on the ground, and continues to pursue initiatives in this organization which run counter to any agreement ever reached – from the Declaration of Principles of 1993, to the Road Map of today.
The dreams of both Palestinians and Israelis are inextricably tied to the fulfillment, once and for all, of the Palestinian obligation to fight and dismantle terrorism, in accordance with international law, UN resolutions and the Road Map. The good-faith fulfillment of this basic Palestinian commitment would obviate the need for Israeli counter-terrorist measures, and pave the way for peaceful negotiations, that are the true guarantee of the welfare, prosperity and security of the peoples of the region.
Israel remains prepared to negotiate with any Palestinian leadership that lives up to the fundamental Palestinian obligations and commitments that are so vital for a viable peace process, through which a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state, existing side by side with Israel can be established. Israel stands ready to fulfill its commitments under the Road Map, ready to make painful compromises, and ready to assist and facilitate a Palestinian leadership committed to peace in fulfilling its own obligations. Now, with the formation of a new Palestinian cabinet, we hope that there is a readiness to act on the Palestinian side. It is because we believe in peace and security for all peoples in the region, that we believe that a Palestinian partner for peace will one day emerge.
The Question of Palestine, which we are debating here in the General Assembly, can only be solved by the forum and in the venue that really count – by the Palestinian people in the region. A Palestinian leadership that genuinely cares about the welfare of the Palestinian people cannot continue to support terrorism and reject the rights of others. With a Palestinian leadership devoted to democracy and coexistence, and bestowed with the courage and wisdom to compromise for peace, the Question of Palestine will solve itself. And when that happens, Israel will be there to share and advance the national welfare and prosperity of both peoples.
Thank you, Mr. President.
||Statement by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, on Agenda Item 37: The Situation in the Middle East – Dec 2, 2003|