Friday, October 31, 2014

OPENING SESSION Statement by H.E. Mr. Zahir Tanin Head of the Delegation Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

Excellencies,

Distinguished speakers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, under the theme “Ending the occupation and establishing the Palestinian State.”

At the outset, allow me to reiterate our Committee’s sincere appreciation through His Excellency Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, for the decision of the Government of Turkey to host our important Meeting. The holding of this Meeting in this country holds great significance. We are very much aware and appreciative of Turkey’s foreign policy dynamism and the leadership role it is playing in the region in recent years on many issues. The contribution of Turkey to the quest for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict spans many decades. Let me recall that Turkey was one of the three founding members of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, established in the wake of the 1948 war. Having deep historical and cultural roots in the region, Turkey is strategically placed to be a trusted interlocutor to the various conflicting parties, while at the same time remaining a steadfast champion of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

Turkey is always at the forefront in the region, whether promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation, suggesting innovative solutions to the stalemate in the peace process, working on revitalizing the other tracks of the Middle East peace process, providing educational opportunities for Palestinians, sending relief goods to Gaza, building industrial zones, tirelessly advocating and mobilizing for the two-State solution, or patrolling as part of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron or UNIFIL in Lebanon. The commitment of Turkey to peace and stability in the region is well known and deeply appreciated by the international community, and we are privileged to have Turkey as a founding member of the Committee.

Our Committee, established in 1975 as the only United Nations organ exclusively entrusted with the political aspects of the question of Palestine, attaches great importance to this Meeting. We are grateful to all the officials from Governements and intergovernmental organizations, as well as to the experts and civil society representatives participating in our Meeting. Let me state, however, that I would not consider our mission accomplished if this Meeting solely provided a platform to restate our long-held positions, important though they are. We hope it would take us a step further towards a critical re-examination of some of the long-held assumptions and old patterns related to the peace process.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Madrid peace conference, which ushered in the peace process. We need to take a hard look at what went right and, more importantly, at what went wrong in the intervening two decades. The sovereign State of Palestine, free from foreign occupation, is still just a vision. The sense of frustration is palpable among Palestinians and in the region in general, both with the open-ended Israeli occupation and the open-ended peace process, which has proceeded by fits and starts, in bouts of inconclusive negotiations, raising expectations then failing to meet them. The patience of Palestinians with the peace process, and with the two-State solution in general, is wearing thin.

By many significant measures the Palestinians are worse off today than they were at the outset of the peace process. One of the obvious casualties has been their freedom of movement. Two thirds of Gazans under 30, meaning those who grew up during the peace process, have never had an opportunity to set foot outside Gaza. They have no first-hand experience of the world outside, and that includes the West Bank. The unacceptable blockade has reduced Gazans to building houses out of mud, to replace those wantonly destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead more than a year ago. The situation in the West Bank is not much better, with the separation wall and settler-only roads criss-crossing the land, dotted with Israeli settlements and checkpoints. The end result is geographical discontinuity, which is discouraging investment and choking off meaningful economic development, leaving the Palestinians massively dependent on foreign aid. Needless to say, humanitarian assistance and budget support by donors mostly going to pay current civil service salaries are hardly a sustainable basis to build a viable State on.

Against this rather bleak background, the resumed indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States offer some encouragement. Our Committee welcomes the start of the indirect talks and hopes that they will soon lead to tangible results on the ground, such as unobstructed movement of persons and goods in the West Bank, and end of the blockade of Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the enlargement of the area under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Equally important is a credible mechanism to monitor and ensure the parties’ compliance with their Road Map obligations and other commitments while the talks unfold. The parties should refrain from any unilateral actions changing the status quo on the ground and from incitement that could jeopardize the ongoing efforts. Such steps would create the required atmosphere for direct negotiations between the parties that will tackle all final status issues without exception.

Unfortunately, the initial signs are far from encouraging. On the ground, new massive settlement projects are awaiting the end of the 10-month settlement freeze. Demolitions of Palestinian homes continue unabated. Top Israeli officials are signalling the intention to persevere with the illegal settlement campaign in occupied East Jerusalem and to continue to depopulate the city of its indigenous Palestinian population, in defiance of the collective will of the international community, including the Quartet, and in total disregard of international law. These acts undermine the very basis of a negotiated settlement and destroy the credibility of the political process.

To quote President Abbas, Jerusalem holds the key to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. A clear message should be sent to Israel, the occupying Power, that its unilateral actions aimed at altering the status of East Jerusalem and its demographic and cultural characters will not be recognized by the international community and will be firmly rejected.

Equally disturbing are the new Israeli military orders threatening thousands of West Bank Palestinians with deportation. Labelled as “infiltrators” in their own native land, these Palestinians can be arbitrarily deprived of their right of residency and summarily deported at the whim of a military commander. These and other similar measures constitute grave violations of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

A positive development that we have been championing is the comprehensive blueprint for a Palestinian State in two years unveiled by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in August 2009, which has garnered wide support by the international community. Aiming to end the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel, harmonize the legal system and streamline governance, the plan also involves building infrastructure, harnessing natural resources, and improving housing, education, and agriculture. The Plan aims to end the occupation by creating positive facts on the ground. No longer content to be at the mercy of external forces, the Palestinians want to take control of their destiny, building a future incrementally from the ground up. The Palestinian State-building agenda complements the negotiating process, and hopefully the two will run on mutually reinforcing tracks and eventually converge in the not so distant future. The revolutionary nature of the plan demands an equally bold response by the international community.

The right of the Palestinians to self-determination and sovereignty, acknowledged by the terms of General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947, has been annually reaffirmed by successive UN resolutions adopted by the overwhelming majority. This right is an inalienable right, which means it is not contingent on any agreement or someone’s goodwill, and it is not for any party to the negotiations or external Power to withhold or grant.

Upon the expected conclusion of the Fayyad Plan in August 2011, it will be time for the other countries supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination so overwhelmingly with their votes in the General Assembly to stand up and be counted, follow the lead of others and recognize Palestine, as a responsible member of the community of nations. It gives me great pleasure to recall that our host Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Palestine, and I would like to encourage other countries represented here to do likewise when appropriate. At the end of the projected two years, this recognition could be enshrined in a Security Council resolution clearly determining the borders of the Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 lines. By putting the weight of its authority behind this plan, the Council would create the necessary political framework for ending the occupation and implementing the two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our Committee is convinced that only serious and sustained international engagement will bring about a peaceful and negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues and reverse the growing support for radical forces that promote violent and unilateral approaches to ending the conflict. The Committee remains committed to contributing constructively and actively to international efforts aimed at the achievement of a peaceful settlement.

This United Nations International Meeting is one important step in that direction. We are looking forward to analyses and inputs from our distinguished experts representing think tanks, academic institutions, the United Nations, and civil society.

I thank you all and hope that in the course of the coming two days, you will have an opportunity to engage in a stimulating and useful discussion of the issues at hand.

Thank you very much.