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The First Annual International Conference of 2018 Entitled "Palestine Where to?" - Opening Session

Friday, June 22, 2018


Nickolay E. Mladenov

Thank you very much for the opportunity to address your conference today and let me begin by saying what an impressive facility you have here. You should be very proud of the work of the Arab American University in Jenin but also at the graduate school here. I want to begin by very quickly answering your first question. Where do we go from here? And my answer is very short. You stay here. You are not going anywhere. This is your land. These are your people. This is where you built your state. Enough of Palestinians going to places, throwing the keys away, giving up. No, you stay here and you do not give up on the idea of building a democratic and viable Palestinian state. Because there is no other alternative. Whatever anyone may think or what anyone may say. To have one state is not an option. To have two states is the only way to address and to respond to the real historic, religious, national, legal rights of the Palestinian people and the way to achieve that state is through negotiations. I believe this very firmly and I believe that I speak on the behave of the Secretary-General, Guterres, and on behave of the majority, the vast majority of states around the world who have committed not once to this consensus.

Sadly, today that consensus is being challenged. It is challenged at different levels. Firstly, the idea of two states is being challenged. Secondly, we see often, unfortunately, the basic parameters that the international community has agreed on what we call the final status issues to be challenged and undermined and last but not least what is perhaps most worrying on a daily basis is that the negative trends on the ground, the reality around this, is challenging these very, very ideas. And when people fear that there is no prospect of a Palestinian state, when they see the land for the future Palestinian state disappearing in front of their eyes. When they see the international consensus being challenged it is not fear that emerges in their hearts. It is anger. And when that anger very quickly materializes in violence, the situation becomes much more difficult for everyone. It is very unfortunate that over the last year we have seen moves by the United States’ government that have contributed to undermining this consensus. And you know what I’m referring to. I’m referring to first US moves on Jerusalem and the moving of the embassy, the cutting of the funding for UNWRA, the effects of which we see now. We’re seeing the continuing process of the disappearing of land as settlement, construction and expansion continues in the West Bank. In Gaza, we see over a 100 people killed in just a couple of days and over 1500 injured with live ammunition by Israeli firing in just a couple of days. We see the risks that are emerging from the terrible, terrible humanitarian situation in which your cousins and brothers and sisters in Gaza live for the last ten years. And we’re seeing that the efforts to return the Gaza Strip under the control of the legitimate Palestinian government are stalled. So very, very little good news on that front. Nevertheless, what we also see, if we look very, very carefully, is that there are efforts that continue particularly among civil society organizations to talk about peace, to talk about dialogue, to talk about understanding and these efforts need to be recognized and need to be acknowledged far more than we currently recognize or acknowledge them. We also see that there is a growing international understanding in the region of the Middle East but well beyond that region as well, that it is time to support the end of the Palestinian divide. It is time to bring Gaza and the West Bank back under the control of one legitimate single national Palestinian authority and it is time to do that in a manner that also helps the humanitarian crisis. And the only way that we can do that is if the closures on Gaza are lifted and if the international community supports the efforts of Egypt and other critical parties in order to be able to bring that unity to fruition.

So, you don’t go anywhere. You stay here and you continue building your state. And to do that, to realize the dream of so many generations of Palestinians to have a state, it is our responsibility in the international community to live up to your expectations, to revive the peace process. And to revive a peace process that brings the Palestinian and the Israeli leadership to the table with international support, with international mediation and make sure that both parties address the issues that they need to address in order to find a final status arrangement that leads to two states emerging. It is only Palestinians and Israelis who can take decisions what is on the table and what is off the table. We can all help. We can advise. We can support. We can mediate. But it is Palestinians and Israelis who will have to make the hard decisions in a negotiation and it is our responsibility to give them full support for that. As far as the United Nations is concerned, as far as the Secretary-General, myself and all of us are concerned, the only way to do that, is if we return back to the table on the basis of what are the legitimate parameters of finding a resolution to the Palestinian question and these legitimate parameters have been outlined repeatedly in number of UN resolutions, The Security Council, the General Assembly. They have been discussed in bilateral agreements. They have been discussed in track two approaches. We need to create the conditions in order for negotiations to be viable so that the parties can return to that. And it is only through those negotiations, in which hard decisions will be made, that a two state solution can emerge. I have hardly met a Palestinian whether here in the West Bank, in occupied East Jerusalem or in Gaza who doesn’t believe that, who is not skeptical, and doesn’t believe that another round of negotiations means another round of losses for the Palestinian national cause. And I’ve hardly met an Israeli, on the other side, who doesn’t believe that another round of negotiations doesn’t lead to another round of violence. It is these perceptions that we need to challenge. And to challenge these perceptions we need a leadership that is able to stand up against these beliefs and to show that building a state for Palestinians means security both for Palestinians and for Israelis. That there is no zero-sum game here that everybody can win and the only way that everybody can win is if recognized the national, historic and legal rights of both people to live in states of their own. Unfortunately, unilateral steps undermine this prospect on a daily basis. And what we have focused on over the last couple of years is on what needs to be done in order to create the conditions that would make such negotiations possible.

The leadership is in the hands of the people. The Palestinian people and the Israeli people. But it is in the hands of the international community, of the United Nations, of the Quartet, of our partners whether they are in Europe, in America, in Asia, in Africa, everywhere. To make sure that we look at what are the conditions that we need to put in place for negotiations to be successful. And I’m sure people here will think that I’m talking about conferences and discussions and statements. No, I’m talking about the reality on the ground because we can have as many conferences as we want. We can have as many discussions as we want but until we change the reality on the ground people will not believe any of the words that we say to them. And the reality on the ground today as we report to the Security Council on a regular basis under resolution 2334 is the continuing expansion of settlements, the construction of settlements, the denial of Palestinians, particularly in area C of the West Bank to develop freely, the demolition of houses and communities. All of this shapes the reality around this. Just as much as the violence that both Israelis and Palestinians face on a daily basis whether it’s here in the West Bank or whether as we see very forcefully in Gaza as well. So, first we need to change that reality on the ground. We need to have a full stop to this human expansion and construction enterprise so that there is space for the Palestinian state to develop. We need to address the issue of violence as well. We need to address the challenge of Gaza. I will speak a little bit later about that in more detail. But it is not just enough to stop things in order to create an environment. We need to have positive steps as well. And the positive steps that we need to look at must be transformative. And these steps must empower the Palestinian authority, the Palestinian government, to deliver better services to its people, better economic opportunities and ultimately address the huge infrastructural gaps that exist currently between people in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. This is not to replace a peace process. On the contrary. This is only to support an environment in which negotiations will be meaningful and effective and I believe very firmly that your government last year adopted an important document that many outside of the policy circles may not have noticed but that I assure you is a critically important document. And that is the Palestinian national policy plan for development. That document is a compilation of the plans and the efforts of the Palestinian government to bring back the stake building enterprise to Palestine in a matter that is effective, that is efficient and that focuses exactly on the issues that people are most concerned with. And I must say that when that document was published, and the United Nations supported this process intensely, we were very happy to see it happen and we will be very, very happy to continue supporting it because today, in today’s environment in which people challenge the very concept of two states, we together, you Palestinians and we in the international community, have a responsibility to challenge those who say that the Palestinian state is not viable and one way of doing it very effectively is to build the institutions and strengthen the investments that have been made for over a quarter of a century now in building Palestine. I believe that this is a very big part of our effort today so we need to stop the negative trends on the ground. We need to support the positive trends on the ground and ultimately we need to be able to work together to create an environment in which negotiations will be meaningful. If we don’t create that environment, we’ll very easily fall back into the paradigm of the past. And the paradigm of the past unfortunately is either talks for the sake of talks which don’t get the Palestinian people anywhere or the paradigm of what some people call conflict management or economic peace and these are two traps we must avoid at all costs.

Today however we have a very immediate challenge in this process and I want to speak a little bit at some lengths about that challenge and that challenge is Gaza. Nobody in Palestine, around the world or in the Middle East who knows this part of the world, nobody can stand up in front of a crowd of people and say “Gaza is a Palestinian state without the West Bank”. Nobody can say that and nobody should be allowed to implement plans and actions that would separate Gaza and the West Bank. When I came here three years ago in my very first speech to the Security Council, I made it clear. The United Nations will always work to keep Gaza and the West Bank together under one single legitimate national Palestinian authority and I want to assure you that even after you all give up on unity I will be the last one to give up on that unity because we have a responsibility to make sure that we do everything that is in our power to restore that and I saw with my very own eyes the tears, not the smiles, the tears of people in Gaza when they heard the news a year ago, that Fatah and Hamas had gone to Cairo in October and reached an agreement to bring the government back to Gaza. They weren’t smiling, they were crying. Because after ten years of wars, of misery, of Hamas control of Gaza, that was hope to them and unfortunately as I’m sure many of you know quite well, much better than many of us on the outside, if you create hope and if you take that hope away from people, the only thing you end up with is violence. And today we have a responsibility to avoid that violence. What we have seen over the last few weeks and months in Gaza is a rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation, an increase of the security risks and a blockage of the political process. And I challenge anyone who wants to stand up to me and say that these are not key challenges and problems in Gaza that we need to address and that the only way we can address them is by realizing and admitting openly and publicly that yes Gaza has a humanitarian crisis but first of all, Gaza is a political challenge and that political challenge can only be addressed if we restore the process, the Egyptian led process, of reconciliation and the efforts to bring the government back, if we work to address the humanitarian crisis and if we work to prevent another escalation, another war. The United Nations will continue to work with the Palestinian government and with the Palestinian leadership in supporting the leadership and the government’s efforts to return back to Gaza and to deliver services to its people. But what the United Nations will say and says today is enough. Enough of talks, enough talking and enough conferences and enough statements and enough promises and pictures of a great bright future for your brothers and sisters in Gaza. It is time to act and it is time to act now because if we do not act now, we will lose the opportunities of the future. And to act now and to act today means to go back and to implement every single promise that we have made to the Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians here in the West Bank about unity and about the future. And I’m not talking about showing pictures of future desalination plants and ports and airports in Gaza. I’m talking about fixing the electricity lines there so that people have more than three hours of electricity per day. I’m talking about fixing the water pipelines so the people actually have drinking water in their houses. I’m talking about getting electricity to hospitals so hospitals don’t function on generators for which we have money to run only until august of this year. I’m talking about getting medicines to the same hospital so that they can treat patients on time effectively. I’m talking about lifting the closures and using the movement and acts of restrictions so that the Palestinians can travel from Gaza to the West Bank, so children can reconnect with their families and students can go and study abroad and businessmen can make deals and create jobs. I’m talking about creating jobs and opportunities. It is the only way forward if we want to bring the legitimate Palestinian government back and we will continue to support the efforts of your own government to achieve all of these plans because all of these plans have been laid out. They have been approved and they have been coordinated by everyone. It is our responsibility today to make sure that the funding is in place, that the United Nations’ teams are on the ground, able to monitor and to implement projects as we speak and that we are in a position to coordinate these efforts better with the Palestinian government and with Egypt and with Israel who play also a key role in this process. This unity is a critical factor and it is a critical factor particularly today after ten years of separation, after three wars in Gaza and after this rising trend outside of the region to challenge the basic parameters of how the Palestinian question can be resolved.

Some people challenge whether Jerusalem should be the capital of both states. Our answer to that is no. It should be the capital of both states. Some people challenge where the borders should be. Should the borders be based on sixty-seven? Others challenge the right of return to Palestinian refugees. Are we going to allow the question of Gaza and the unity between Gaza and the West Bank to also be challenged? No. our answer to all of these questions is no and we have to stand up and act quickly and effectively to prevent that right now. In closing let me once again reiterate that our firm believe is that a two state solution is the only way to legitimately end the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis but reaching a two state solution requires negotiations. To resume meaningful negotiations requires that we put in place the right conditions for these negotiations. And that creating these conditions requires transformative steps that need to be taken on the ground on a daily basis but even if we do all of this, that will not be enough because underlying is this fear, this toxic atmosphere that has emerged between Israelis and Palestinians over the last year that needs to be addressed. Hatred, particularly social media, angry public discourse, dehumanization of the other side. These challenges, this rhetoric, this toxic atmosphere also need to be challenged and to do that we need a very, very strong partnership with civil society organizations on both sides. And last but not least, we in the international community need to understand that the efforts today to revive the peace process and to bring it back on track, need to take into account the historic changes that have happened around the region. That today there is a rising trend among some Arab countries in the region to support moderation, to support the forces of moderation against the forces of radicalization and we need to work very closely with them. You have strong support as Palestinians in the public in the Arab world. You have strong support among the leadership of Arab countries here in the region. It is time to bring that support to weigh in on the future of how we revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. This is why, for the last two years, sometimes successfully, sometimes less successfully, the United Nations has engaged with the Americans, with the Russians, with the European Union to bring the Arab world into the discussion, the Quartet, to engage much more actively than before with Egypt, with Jordan in particular, in order to be able to find a solution in a way forward. Thank you very much for the opportunity again to speak to this very esteemed audience and I hope that, as we continue our joined journey forward, we will be able, not only to revive hope but to see real results in moving forward on our collective efforts to build up a Palestinian state and to make sure that the Palestinian and the Israeli state live side by side in peace and security and on the basis of agreement on the final status issues as they have been defined many, many times on the relevant UN Security Council and UN resolutions in general. Thank you very much again for the opportunity to address you.