Solemn meeting held by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at the United Nations Office in Vienna

29 November 2000

Statement by Dr. Hans Kφchler, President of the International Progress Organization

One of the important legacies of the United Nations Organization is its contribution to the liberation of peoples from colonial rule and foreign occupation. In the field of de-colonization, the world organization has provided the framework for the political and legal support to independence movements worldwide. The organization's remarkable success in the field of de-colonization was made possible because of the unity among its member states in support of the inalienable right to self-determination.

The UN's success, however, is not complete as long as an entire people is forced to live under the yoke of foreign occupation and as long as colonial settlers usurp this people's rights and exploit land and resources which are not their own. This is, in short, the situation the Arab people of Palestine is facing at the dawn of the 21st century – after many decades of betrayal, denial of the most basic human rights, expulsion from its homeland and continued military aggression and occupation.

In spite of the solemn proclamations by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations Organization of each people's right to self-determination, the Palestinians were never given the right to decide about their own future. Upon the end of Ottoman rule, Palestine was put under British Mandate by the League of Nations. The statute of this Mandate incorporated the basic provisions of the Balfour Declaration implicitly denying the Palestinian people's right over its own land. When the Mandate ended after World War II, the Palestinians were again prevented from exercising sovereignty over their land. The Palestinian people's rights have been further curtailed and neglected since the war of 1948. All of historical Palestine – including Jerusalem – was seized by Israel in the course of the 1967 war. In spite of numerous United Nations resolutions, the occupying power has refused to withdraw and to give up its illegal claim of sovereignty over Palestine; to the contrary: it annexed Jerusalem, declared it as its capital and established colonial settlements all over the occupied territories. All of this was done in contravention to the basic rules of international law and in the face of protest and condemnation by the international community.

The so-called "peace process," which was initiated in 1991 after the Gulf War, did not improve the situation. To the contrary: the existing settlements were expanded, a big number of settlers – particularly from the United States – were brought into Palestine, the number of Jewish settlements drastically increased. Palestinian land was confiscated, Palestinian houses were demolished, and occupied Jerusalem was further strangulated by the establishment of a ring of Jewish settlements around it. In view of these undeniable facts which have developed particularly since 1993, it has become clear that the Oslo agreements cannot constitute the framework for a just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian problem and for genuine peace in the region. These agreements do not deal with the core issue, namely that of Palestinian sovereignty, and they put aside all the basic questions including that of Jerusalem, while reserving virtually all sovereignty rights to the occupying power.

The Al-Quds Intifadah is the legitimate expression of the Palestinian people's will to resist continued subjugation and humiliation by the occupying power. In the present tragic situation in Palestine, we consider it appropriate to emphasize the basic legal principles and considerations which are part of the international rule of law as represented by the United Nations:

All above mentioned facts and practices have been denounced by the United Nations. It is an undeniable fact that Israel's status in the Palestinian territories is that of a belligerent occupant. The Security Council – in resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) – called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied Palestine; the General Assembly repeatedly affirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people "including (a) the right of self-determination without external interference, (b) the right to national independence and sovereignty" (resolution of 22 November 1974).

Irrespective of all these solemn declarations, reiterated time and again since the war of 1967, the United Nations has been unable to adopt compulsory measures against the occupying power. Because of the special veto rule contained in Article 27 of the Charter, the Security Council has not been in a position to impose collective enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the Charter.

It is not surprising that the people of Palestine see themselves as victims of a policy of double standards, which has left them virtually without support by the international community against the continued usurpation of their land. Under the very eyes of that international community, facts have been created on the ground that with every passing day make it harder to reach a peaceful settlement.

At this solemn occasion, I want to emphasize without any ambiguity: peace can never be achieved on the basis of the subjugation of an entire people. Not one single colonial settlement must remain in Palestine if a lasting solution is to be found. The question of Jerusalem is the core issue of a peace settlement. Palestinian-Arab sovereignty has to be fully restored over Al-Quds Al-Sharif. Vague concepts of "joint sovereignty" or other imprecise legal terms only obfuscate the real issue and will not work in a situation where the occupying power has declared the illegally annexed city as its "eternal capital."

The sad history of the Oslo accords has taught us that "peace agreements" cannot work in a constellation where one party enjoys overwhelming power and where it is able to impose its will upon the weaker side. A further lesson can be drawn from what was euphemistically termed the "peace process": the main ally of one of the parties to a dispute can never play the role of honest broker or mediator. No peace settlement that deserves its name can be achieved if colonial settlements remain in the midst of Palestinian land, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza. As rightly stated by the American-Jewish author Alfred Lilienthal at our organization's 1980 conference on Palestine and Jerusalem, the creation of a Palestinian Bantustan is not a viable solution. One should learn the lessons of history and pay due attention to the total failure of the concept of so-called "Homelands" in apartheid South Africa.

What we witness today is not simply the repetition of the Palestinian Intifadah of the eighties. The Al-Quds Intifadah marks a decisive new step in the liberation struggle of the Arab people of Palestine – in the context of a general awakening of the popular masses in the Arab and Muslim world after years of political agony and disunity.

If a larger conflict threatening peace and security in the whole Middle Eastern region and beyond is to be avoided, the Palestinian people must be entitled to regain sovereignty over its land and resources. Concepts of "limited sovereignty" or "autonomy," based on the logic of colonial tutelage and domination, are not anymore acceptable to a people who over decades has been humiliated and subjected to all forms of domination and denial of its basic rights.

A lasting settlement in Palestine has to include a complete withdrawal from all occupied territories including Jerusalem, the acknowledgment of the right of return for the Palestinians who were forced to leave their land since 1948, and adequate compensation for the losses of land and property. The confiscation of Palestinian land and the building of settlements have to be stopped immediately and all existing settlements have to be evacuated without exception.

These are not unjustified or unreasonable demands but necessary requirements of peace which are clearly derived from United Nations resolutions and general principles of international law. A future sovereign State of Palestine cannot be based on the concept of limited sovereignty or on continued interference by the present occupying power in its internal affairs. The State must have full control over natural resources and international affairs.

We call upon the international community to exercise pressure upon the occupying power and to use all necessary means to stop the Israeli army from killing stone-throwing Palestinian youth. The Israeli army has no legal right whatsoever to be present in the Palestinian territories. It must immediately stop the excessive and disproportionate use of force against Palestinian civilians and its brutal military attacks on the Palestinian infrastructure. Such large-scale attacks escalate the conflict in a dangerous manner. De-escalation will only be possible on the basis of the army's speedy and complete withdrawal from the occupied territories. International civil society – in particular non-governmental organizations – can play a vital role in influencing organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union to use adequate pressure vis-ΰ-vis the occupier.

In conformity with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, an international force should be dispatched immediately by the United Nations to protect the civilian population of Palestine from the massive attacks of the Israeli occupation army.

The apparent failure of bilateral – or trilateral – negotiations as evidenced in the collapse of the "Oslo process" basically results from the drastic imbalance of power relations between the State of Israel and the "stateless" Palestinians. Let me recall, in this regard, what I said exactly twenty years ago at the special meeting held at UN Headquarters in commemoration of the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People: "Only the United Nations – with its multilateral structure – and not any kind of bilateral agreement can provide the legal and political framework for the achievement of the aspirations of the Palestinian people under the leadership of its sole legitimate representative, the Palestine Liberation Organization."

In this new and decisive phase of the Palestinian people's liberation struggle, the adequate response of the international community to the Al-Quds Intifadah will not merely be humanitarian gestures and emergency aid, as important as these may be in a time of armed confrontation, but decisive political action (including economic pressure) so as to induce the occupying power to withdraw from a land over which it has no right, and to convince it that it cannot pacify the land against the will of its legitimate inhabitants.

The establishment of a truly sovereign Arab state in Palestine, including Jerusalem, could be the decisive factor in securing a lasting order of peace in the entire region. Even if this may sound like a highly idealistic assumption at the present moment: The settlement of the Palestinian problem on the basis of self-determination could be the catalyst for a "new order" of co-operation and partnership guaranteeing equal rights to the peoples of the Arab world and its neighbours. If one wants to avoid further confrontation and prolonged war threatening the stability of the entire region, there is simply no alternative to the unequivocal recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. It is the special mission of the United Nations Organization to provide the multilateral framework for a fair and comprehensive solution based on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.