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(26 October 2011) Open Debate on the Question of Palestine, Focus: Palestine's UN Membership and Getting to Credible Negotiations

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Dr. Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Security Council, Debate on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, 24 October 2011 :                                                                                         (Check Against Delivery)
 
Mme. President, 
 
            Palestine congratulates Nigeria on its skilled stewardship of the Security Council this month. We express appreciation as well to Lebanon for its efficient Presidency in September, including its responsible handling of Palestine’s application for United Nations membership, which was conveyed to the Council on 23 September 2011 by the H.E. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
 
I also reiterate our appreciation to Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, for his briefing and for all the efforts being carried out by the Department, including by the UN Special Coordinator Mr. Robert Serry on behalf of the Secretary-General.
 
Mme. President,
 
We meet in this debate at a historic moment when the Security Council is engaged in consideration of the application submitted by Palestine for admission as Member State of the United Nations. It is a moment long overdue in the tragic history of the Palestinian people and this prolonged conflict. And, it is a moment requiring utmost responsibility by the Council members to uphold their Charter duties and their legal obligations with regard to the question of Palestine in line with the relevant UN resolutions. We believe it is not an understatement to say: the Palestinian people, the peoples of the region and nearly the entire international community are joined in appeal to the Council at this moment to do justice by Palestine and uphold its role towards the attainment of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution that will finally make peace and security a reality between Palestine and Israel and throughout the Middle East.
 
We reflect today on that which has brought us to this stage in our long quest for realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and a peaceful solution to the conflict. To date, 130 countries have recognized the State of Palestine. These countries have taken a principled stand in support of our people’s right to self-determination and in line with the countless UN resolutions, from resolution 181 (II) in 1947 to the present.  We are grateful for their recognition and support, which constitute an investment in peace consistent with the two-State solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, a solution which is internationally-supported and endorsed.
 
At the same time, over the past two years we have seen significant progress in the building and strengthening of Palestinian national institutions via implementation of the Palestinian Authority’s two-year plan to prepare our institutions and infrastructure for the independence of our State, a massive project undertaken with the strong support and funding of countries from around the globe. Despite the many obstacles and the dysfunction caused by the Israeli occupation, this project has been a success, as affirmed by international institutions and recently reflected in the AHLC Chair’s Conclusions, on 18 September 2011, which reaffirmed that we are able to govern ourselves with viable, effective institutions that are above the threshold for a functioning State. 
 
            In addition to these two dynamics, we have been witness to the repeated regrettable failure of the peace process. For nearly two decades, the negotiations undertaken by the Palestinian leadership in a spirit of historic compromise and good faith have been undermined, obstructed and stalled as a direct result of Israel’s intransigence, its egregious violations of international law and human rights, and its refusal to commit to the most basic principles and parameters essential for the achievement of a just and lasting peace. The consequence, however, has not been borne by the occupying Power, which continues to act with total impunity. Instead, it has been borne by generations of Palestinians, who continue to suffer the hardships of ongoing dispossession and exile and the brutality of the Israeli occupation in all its manifestations; and by the region, which continues to suffer from the insecurity and turmoil of this conflict; and by the international community, which continues to bear the wide impact of the tensions and instability in the region and continues, to no avail, to expend vast efforts and resources to resolving the conflict and alleviate its consequences.
 
            All of these dynamics have led us to this moment - a moment in which we are insistent that international law and resolutions, including of the Security Council, be upheld and insistent that the status quo can no longer continue, for it is unacceptable, illogical, and unjust. This is what brought President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN on 23 September 2011 with the application of the State of Palestine for admission as Member State and his historic statement to the General Assembly on that day. Here, we express our deep appreciation to the UN Secretary-General and Legal Counsel for verifying Palestine’s application and conveying it without question to the Security Council for its consideration. We believe this is a reflection of the strength of Palestine’s application and fulfillment of the required criteria for this important step.
 
            The Council has been debating our application for nearly a month, which we believe is sufficient for its thorough consideration. We are aware of the deliberations taking place in the Admissions Committee, and express our gratitude for the principled positions of support affirmed by many delegations. We also express appreciation for the efforts of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Caucus of the Council in addressing this issue. It is time for the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities by approving our application and making positive recommendation to the General Assembly for Palestine’s admission to membership. This would be the most just and appropriate outcome of this process. We reiterate our belief that actions undertaken at the UN - the center of multilateral activity in our world - can and must contribute towards the peace we all seek and will not obstruct realization of this objective.
 
Of course, we are aware of the difficulties. But, we cannot accept attempts to extend or postpone this exercise indefinitely at the expense of the merits of Palestine’s application and its long-overdue and rightful inclusion in the community of nations. We believe that this exercise should be brought to closure with a clear outcome. In this regard, we stress that we see no contradiction between the possibility of a resumption of negotiations between the two sides, which the Quartet is seeking to arrange, and the Security Council’s responsible consideration of Palestine’s application. In fact, these processes - which share the objective of actualizing the two-State solution of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders - should be viewed as mutually reinforcing.
 
Mme. President,
           
Palestine’s efforts in the recent period, including President Abbas’ speech before the General Assembly and the submission of our application, have contributed to the growing momentum underscoring the urgency of bringing an end to the occupation that began in 1967, allowing the Palestinian people to live in freedom and dignity and for a new era of peace and security to prevail in our region. It is this momentum that led to the initiation of the French proposal by President Nicolas Sarkozy and to the 23 September statement by the Quartet and that has given added impetus to governments and civil society worldwide to bolster their support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people at this critical time.
 
            The core understanding of the Palestinian leadership of the Quartet statement is that negotiations are to commence on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders and that Israel is expected to meet its legal obligations, including under the Roadmap, to stop all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Clearly, no credible peace process can proceed in the absence of such a basic understanding. If the Quartet succeeds in securing a commitment from the Israeli side on this basis, then the Palestinian side is willing to resume negotiations, in accordance with the agreed terms of reference reflected in the resolutions of this Council, the Madrid principles, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Roadmap.
 
            Here, we reiterate: there is no contradiction between resuming negotiations in this framework and the Palestinian efforts to become a Member State of the UN. This is particularly clear since the two-State solution enjoys global consensus and the aim of both processes is the long-overdue independence of the Palestinian State, a right denied for over 63 years since the partition, and the achievement of a just and lasting peace.
 
Mme. President,
 
            The current reality of the Israeli occupation and the situation of the Palestinian Authority cannot be sustained. Israel cannot continue to exploit and benefit from the occupation without consequence, absolved of its responsibilities as an occupying Power. The current situation must either change, or Israel must assume full responsibility as the occupying Power. The status quo cannot be maintained as we move forward for it is absolutely untenable.
 
            Indeed, the situation on the ground continues to worsen and tensions continue to rise. In the midst of the serious diplomatic efforts being exerted by all concerned parties, Israel has instead intensified its illegal settlement campaign in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, gobbling up more Palestinian land with its construction and expansion of settlements and the wall, destroying more Palestinian homes and properties, and displacing more Palestinian families, in addition to permitting the terror rampages of the Israeli settlers against our civilians, their homes, their lands and trees, and their mosques. Such actions by Israel must be seen for what they are: a concrete, negative reaction to the efforts by the international community, including the Quartet, in favor of its occupation and expansionist annexation agenda.
 
How else can one explain the provocative and arrogant declarations in just the last three weeks regarding the construction of nearly 4,000 more settlement units? How else can one explain the deliberate planning and expansion of settlements and the attempts to entrench settlement outposts through legislation, particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, all measures which are severing the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, encircling Occupied East Jerusalem and separating it from its natural Palestinian environs, and totally undermining the contiguity and viability of our State? There is no justification for these illegal Israeli measures and no explanation other than that this Israeli Government is neither interested in the two-State solution nor is it interested in peace and security, and is instead choosing to continue its occupation and subjugation of an entire nation of people and continue the conflict.
 
This obstruction of peace has also been underscored in the recent period by the occupying Power’s intensification of its ill-treatment and abuse of the thousands of Palestinian civilians that remain imprisoned in its jails and detention centers. We have drawn your attention to their plight, including the hunger strike that began on 27 September, in a series of letters, and we call on the Security Council to uphold international law vis-à-vis the situation of our prisoners. The international community, including the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention, must demand that Israel comply with its legal obligations and cease its abuse of Palestinian prisoners, who include hundreds of children, some as young as 12 years old, and the ICRC must be given unfettered access. In this regard, the recent prisoner exchange is a very important development. We welcome the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and we await the release of the thousands of others who continue to unjustly languish in Israeli prisons.    
 
            Yet another unsustainable situation is the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has inflicted so much suffering on the Palestinian civilian population. All pretexts for continuing this illegal blockade must be rejected and the international community must be unanimous in demanding that Israel fully lift the blockade and allow for the sustained and regular movement of persons and goods into and out the Gaza Strip, for reconstruction of destroyed homes, properties and infrastructure, and for rehabilitation of our society there, which has been so damaged by this vicious form of collective punishment by the occupying Power.
 
Mme. President,
 
            The Palestinian leadership remains committed to peace and committed to negotiate seriously all final status issues – the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water - when the appropriate environment is secured. However, we will not enter into negotiations for the sake of negotiations; the situation on the ground and the two-State solution itself are too fragile to withstand further delays and sabotage. Israel, the occupying Power, must be speedily compelled to commit to negotiations along the clear parameters we have already committed to.
 
            While committed to the peace process, we must reiterate clearly: the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and independence is not up for negotiation, nor will it be the product of negotiations. This is an inalienable right and is the sole domain of the Palestinian people; it has never been an issue for negotiation with Israel, nor will it ever be. Negotiations on the core issues and the expression of our self-determination should not be confused by Israel or others as one and the same, because they are not. And, Israel, as the occupying Power, should not be allowed to continue obstructing and dictating the terms of our exercise of this inalienable right. 
 
We are determined to achieve this right and all of the legitimate national aspirations of our people. We are determined to bring an end to the injustice endured by our people, including the grave injustice inflicted on our refugees. We are determined to peacefully achieve the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the pre-1967 borders. This achievement will be the core of a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole. We are grateful for the longstanding support of the international community in this journey and urge that no effort be spared at this critical crossroads to make this a reality, and this clearly requires that the Security Council responsibly uphold its Charter duties.