ADDRESS BY H.E. MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANISATION, PRESIDENT OF THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY
Dear Friend, President George Papandreou,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me first to thank you for inviting us once again to meet with the Socialist International, which is our political family, in the city of Athens, the name of which is intimately linked to democracy, our common heritage and our shared commitment. I also want, through the president of the Socialist International, to thank Greece, its people and its government, for their sincere support to our Palestinian people.
I want to use the opportunity offered by the convening of this 23rd Congress of the Socialist International, to shed some light on the challenges of the current situation, so that we reach a common understanding on how to move the cause of peace forward, and so as not to miss the opportunities today available, as several opportunities were missed in the past.
When I speak of an opportunity, I refer to the political process which started in Annapolis more than seven months ago, and aroused an unprecedented international support. This was meant to revive hope for the achievement of a peace that would put an end to the military occupation and to settlement colonization, and lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State within the borders of 5th of June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, guaranteeing a just and agreed upon solution to the problem of refugees, in accordance with international legality.
The current process of negotiation between us and our neighbours, with the participation of the US secretary of State, under the scrutiny of the Quartet, which has been going on since it began in Annapolis, is still facing grave obstacles, and there is still a wide gap between the respective positions, that cannot be overcome unless the Israeli government adopts positions and measures that will clearly emphasize its serious desire to seize an opportunity to achieve peace which may not repeat itself.
Public opinion in our country, and I do not mean in Palestine alone, but in our region as a whole, legitimately questions the significance of the peace we are striving to achieve, and wonders about the nature of the ongoing political process while on the ground measures and violations, including assassinations, continue as they have gone on all along the years of occupation, without any change.
Land confiscation, the building of settlements, and the construction of a new occupation infrastructure isolating the Palestinian population centres and imposing a system similar to the canton regime, is a systematic policy, enforced on a daily basis. Jerusalem is besieged by the separation wall and new settlement projects around and inside the city. Our Palestinian citizens, both Christians and Muslims, are not allowed to visit their families, access their holy places, or establish an economic, social, or cultural connection with the holy city.
Jerusalem is deprived of any national or social institutions, after the closure of the most important national institutions, and since their cultural and social activities were limited to a minimum.
Moreover, the separation wall destroys the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians, and some towns and villages are deprived of free access to the other Palestinian areas. In a small territory like the West Bank, you can imagine the impact of the some 650 checkpoints at the entrance of the various villages and towns. This hinders circulation, economic and social activity, and all forms of human communication. And you can also imagine what the presence of more than 11000 prisoners in Israeli jails means for our people, or for any other people comparable in numbers and in the size of the territory they live in. At the same time, the process of liberation of prisoners, among which parliamentarians and officials in the institutions of our own Palestinian national authority, is still blocked, in spite of several earlier agreements providing for their release, especially of women, children and sick prisoners, as well as those who have spent more than twenty years of imprisonment.
This is an unacceptable injustice that cannot be allowed to endure. For we aspire to a world with open doors and windows, without restrictions, that will embody the values of justice, tolerance equality and freedom for all peoples and individuals.
The Peace process cannot succeed if we cannot gain the support of public opinion in Israel, in Palestine and in the region as a whole, in order to protect it and guarantee its continuation, and to defend the results that will be reached. And we will never gain the support of public opinion only by words, but only by deeds that will give credibility to the declarations of intention.
Despite the tragic situation we live in, we have decided to give peace talks a chance to continue, and for the world which longs for a just and permanent peace to play its role in helping us to put an end to this situation, and achieve the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state side by side with the state of Israel. But this chance may not remain open for ever, especially as the Arab League has emphasized, through the Arab peace initiative, its readiness to achieve a permanent and comprehensive peace among all the states of the region, if the Israeli occupation of Arabs lands conquered in 1967 ends, if Israeli settlement colonisation is immediately stopped, and if a just and mutually agreed upon solution is found to the refugee problem. The Arab initiative, which was adopted at the Beirut summit, and then again reconfirmed at the meeting of the Foreign ministers of Islamic countries in Teheran, means, amongst other things, that 57 Arab and Muslim countries will normalize their relations with Israel.
Israel must respond to this. We on our part have clearly formulated our response, and we have supported that stand with tangible actions and measures. Our National Authority has unequivocally expressed its readiness to achieve an agreed upon peace according to the roadmap, the Arab Peace initiative and the Two States vision embraced by President Bush.
We have exerted every possible effort for the last three years to create favourable climate for the peace process. We have appealed and strived to achieve calm and to put an end to the circle of violence. Today we witness some steps in this direction, which may stop the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and create real chances to lift the siege and the blockade imposed upon our people in the Gaza Strip since more than a year.
On the other hand, we have worked, with our government, to rebuild the Palestinian security agencies, to guarantee security to our people, and to impose the rule of law in large parts and many cities of the West Bank. This is a very important development, which has already had a considerable impact on the lives of our people, and contributes to the instauration of a climate favourable to economic activity and life in its various aspects, despite the ongoing restrictions of occupation.
The Bethlehem economic Conference which was convened a few weeks ago with the participation of almost 4000 businessmen from Palestine, Arab and other friendly countries, underlined the confidence of society and of the world surrounding us, nearby as well as far away, in the correctness of our political and economic course. It expressed the readiness to support this course, to encourage economic growth and the building process in Palestine, considering that this process is one of the cornerstones of a just peace in our region, besides the support to the ongoing political negotiations.
All this, however, cannot conceal the painful truth that we still have a long way to go in order to achieve success, and that we need a wider international support, particularly that of the European Union, besides the efforts of the international Quartet, and the international community in general. Our society, because of the policies of occupation, suffers from a rate of unemployment that exceeds 50%. Had it not been for the efforts of our Authority, and our support to the poorest sectors of our society, along with the efforts of the brotherly Arab states, the international community and specialized UN agencies, we would have faced a huge humanitarian tragedy that would threaten social, political and security cohesion in the most dangerous fashion.
We hope that before the end of this year, we can reach a true agreement that will lay the ground for the end of occupation, and that we can enter a new era of peace between Palestine, Israel, and the other peoples and states of the area. I do not need to remind you that peace and security are a need for us as they are for Israel, and that security cannot be achieved by military force, but only through historical reconciliation, open borders and a just settlement of the conflict according to the rules of international and humanitarian law.
We shall continue to work to keep this political process alive on practical and serious, and not on illusory and deceitful bases, in order to deprive the enemies of peace in our region of their chance to spread the seeds of hatred and enmity among nations, cultures and religions in the Middle east and in the world.
I want to emphasize, from this rostrum, our full support to the peace process between Syria and Israel to end the occupation of the Syrian Arab Golan Heights. We consider any progress on this track as a support to our track and to the peace process between us and Israel. I also reaffirm the need to find a solution that will put an end, through the United Nations, to the occupation of the Shaba farms.
Ladies and gentlemen
One month ago I called for a comprehensive Palestinian national dialogue to implement the Arab initiative, to put an end to the abnormal situation in the Gaza Strip resulting from the military coup d’Etat which took place more than a year ago, and to solve the internal Palestinian crisis.
I want to reassert, from this rostrum, that we shall exert every possible effort to put an end to this coup d’Etat and to the division that has isolated the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian national body and from the rest of the world. At same time we have emphasized and we now reaffirm that this abnormal situation must not allow or justify the punishment of the whole of our people in the Gaza Strip by way of blockade and starvation and other methods of collective punishment.
I would also like to emphasize that the way to resolve internal disputes cannot be to bargain over quotas and influence, because we reject these methods, which can only lead to more division in our country and in our society.
The best way to serve the interest of our people and democratic rules in today’s world is to return to the people through legislative and presidential elections, according to our Basic Law. This is the main principle we have adopted, and according to which we proceed to overcome this internal Palestinian crisis, so as to prevent the use of military force to achieve political gains in the future.
The Socialist international is our home, and the eyes through which we look at today’s world. We are confident that our efforts and your efforts, which in the past have resulted in great accomplishments in the field of human progress, will soon bear fruit, so that we build a Middle-East free of violence, occupation, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, a Middle-East that belongs to its own peoples and to the vibrant democratic forces which carry the hopes of the peoples for a better future.