Baku Dialogues: SECURITY MATTERS IN THE MIDDLE EAST: PALESTINIAN PERSPECTIVES


It is my great pleasure to be in Baku for the third time in five years, and in this distinguished institution for the second time. I was here last year visiting the institution: touring the campus and sharing my admiration for what it represents and what it offers. I am truly privileged to have the opportunity to speak before you here today.

Believe me, it is not an easy task to talk about Palestine. It is a deeply complicated issue, but I would like to start by saying that when the occupation began in 1967, when Israel occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza district, I was twelve years old. I had my first encounter with Israelis as occupiers, as soldiers. Today I am 59 years old; I have finished school, university, taught at the university for 15 years, helped educate generations, got married, started a family, and had three kids - right now, one is 24 years old and has finished his Master's. I was a technical professor at the electro-mechanical nanotechnology university and other institutions -- and we are still where we were when I was 12 years old. We thought that occupation would pass by, an issue that would affect our lives for a couple of months, maybe a couple of years, not our whole lives, for generations to come. We thought that the occupation was a military one, reflected in the hundreds of military checkpoints, roadblocks every two kilometers all across the occupied Palestinian territories. At each of these soldiers ask for your identity cards, questioning your reasons for traveling within your own country. “Where are you heading?” “What are you doing?” The inconvenience is one thing; the humiliation is another. We thought that this would pass. Well, it has now lasted for more than 47 years, and it seems as if it will continue for many years to come. If we do not invest time and effort in trying to resolve the conflict, then it is not going to be resolved. It is not a matter of what I want; it is not a matter of characterizing the Israelis in one way or another. It is a matter of what the international community would like to see happening in Palestine as part of a wider conflict, not only between Israel and Palestine, but also between Israel and the Arab states and indeed the whole region. Therefore, we consider the resolution of the conflict to be a matter of great importance. Before 1993, many countries came to us and said: “Well, we do acknowledge that you as people under occupation have the right to use all kinds of measures to liberate yourself from the occupiers, including by armed struggle.” This is even enshrined in international law. “But why don't you try to go through a political process based on negotiations?” And they convinced the Palestinian leadership that if we engaged in this process – the process that became the Oslo process - then by 1999 we would get our freedom and independence, we would be rid of the occupation. By 1999, they said, Palestine will become an independent state. We bought into that argument and we worked hard, expecting that the international community would fulfil its promise, and that in 1999 they would deliver a Palestinian state of Palestine. Well, we worked very hard; we waited, we responded positively to all the requirements and expectations put forth by the international community. And as 1999 approached, they came to us and said, “We might need more time.” Okay, we left 1999 behind us, and here we are today, in 2014 - and we are still waiting for the international community to fulfil its promises to the Palestinian people, promises of freedom, liberty and an independent state. The problem is with the occupation, the ways in which Palestinians are treated as subhuman. The problem with the international response is the belief that the problem can be managed rather than resolved, and so they have turned to management rather than conflict resolution. The international community believes that providing us with financial aid to sustain our existence fulfills any ethical and legal obligations. Well, we are not okay. It does not matter how much money you
contribute; it does not matter how nice or smiley you are – this is not going to replace our need for freedom and for independence, and to have our independent state. I look at my son, who was 18 years old when he finished high school, and ready to continue his education at a university. We lived in a city called Ramalla (Ramallah), which is currently the seat of government, only 10 kilometers from Jerusalem. Ramalla is an occupied city, like Jerusalem is an occupied city. My son is 18 years old and he has never had the opportunity to go to Jerusalem, only 10 kilometers from Ramalla. Why? Because Israel has proclaimed occupied east Jerusalem as an internal capital of the State of Israel, and has illegally annexed the occupied city to Israel. As a result, in order for us to go to Jerusalem we need a special Israeli military permit. Well, my son has never had the opportunity to go to Jerusalem to see the city, although the city opens its doors to millions of tourists from all around the world - just not to the Palestinians, the inhabitants of the city and the Palestinian occupied territory. This is a serious problem.

So, when we talk about my decision to enter politics and serve as Foreign Minister, it is because I felt obliged towards my son more than anybody else. When he left Palestine, he went to study in Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, because he found that they had a very good engineering school. The first thing that he said when he called was, “You know what, father?” I said: “What?” “This is the first time in my life that I can walk freely; no one stops me; no one asks for my ID; I don't see roadblocks; I don't see checkpoints; and I don't see soldiers anywhere.” And he told me, “I have discovered what freedom and liberty mean.” I was happy for him, but I was also saddened, because I felt in that particular moment that I have lost my son. My son is not going to come back to Palestine if Palestine is not going to deliver him the freedom, liberty and independence that he has discovered in Dublin.

So, it becomes my double obligation as a father, as a human being, to work hard to guarantee that one day my son will come back to Palestine, to the free and independent state of Palestine. This is a story of Palestine personalized in my life and in my son's life. It is really very difficult. Today, in 2014, we have undergone several rounds of negotiations, because after 1999 when we were promised to be delivered the state of Palestine and we did not get it, they told us: “Well, just engage in this round of negotiations, and then you will get it.” And since 1999 we have been engaged in so many rounds, and rounds, and rounds, and rounds of negotiations … with no result whatsoever. The last round, if you remember, was when President Barack Obama came to us in Palestine, visited us officially, and he said that he had appointed Secretary Kerry to engage with us in negotiations. And so, we started the process of negotiations, which, according to John Kerry should have lasted six to nine months. At the end of six to nine months, we should reach a peace agreement that would put an end to the conflict, and create an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, meaning the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Palestine. “Okay?” – “Okay.” “It is a promise. Need guarantees? Okay, we will give you guarantees.” Secretary Kerry delivered us a written guarantee promising this would be the outcome. I should remind you that since 1967, since the Israeli occupation began, Israel has been building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, moving and bringing their own settlers to live in the Palestinian occupied territories, in these settlements, and, of course, creating new realities on the ground in total violation of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions state clearly that an occupying power cannot move its own citizens into the occupied territories. And they cannot use force to push the indigenous people out. The Geneva Conventions. Since then we have been trying very hard with Switzerland, as the depository of the Geneva Conventions, to hold conferences in order to review the obligations of Israel as an occupying power, and to force Israel to respect its obligations as an occupying power. We have also reminded Switzerland that all the countries that have signed the Geneva Conventions are individually obligated to monitor whether the Geneva Conventions are being respected and implemented in the occupied territory. It is not only that Israel has to respect the Conventions, but also that the signatory countries have to oversee the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions in the occupied territory. They have to act. Nothing like that has happened. Recently we sent them a letter demanding that they should restart consultations with different countries in order to organize the conference before the end of the year, to provide protection to the Palestinian people. They have reacted positively. They have assigned an ambassador to implement consultations, but we see huge difficulties in convening those conferences by the end of this year. What we are asking for is respect for and application of the international conventions, nothing else. Maybe it is applicable to this or that country, and to NATO. But unfortunately, few countries will stand up for the international legal rights of Palestine, and as such they are abetting Israel in its continued violation
of numerous international legal instruments. Well, this is our reality. Since Oslo in 1993, and before that, the Madrid Conference [1991] 23 years ago, which I think all of you remember, we have engaged in all the different kinds of negotiations requested of us by the international community. [We have done this] in order to safeguard Palestinian interests, end the Israeli occupation and see the establishment of the independent Palestinian state as a part of a two-state solution.

We want the State of Palestine to be recognized within the 1967 borders, and to live side-by-side with the state of Israel in peace and security. We believe in this, and we are willing to reach this historical compromise. Before 1947, Palestine was totally, exclusively Palestinian. Then the UN decided to divide Palestine into two states: one Israeli and one Palestinian Arab. Who gave them the right to do so? Well, this is really part of a wider historical narrative. Anyway, the state of Israel was established; the state of Palestine was not established yet. And so, what we are seeking is the implementation of the plan to establish the Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. If the international community, including the United States and EU, believe in the two state solution option, then we cannot maintain this unbalanced negotiation process, where the occupier sits in a closed room negotiating with the occupied. This process lacks balance, because during all these rounds of negotiations, inside the room there is no witness, there is no third party, there is no one who can objectively report or is responsible for the failure of the negotiations. Israel is an occupier. If I want to go as part of a Palestinian delegation to this room to negotiate – [because] I am living under their occupation, I need a special permit to allow me to leave my territory, my country, to travel to a third country, to enter that room, and to engage in negotiations. And if they don't want me to be a part of that delegation they will never issue me a permit. So, that is why we said that this mechanism is not right, this mechanism is equal to failure, and still the international community is blind. They said: “No, this is the only mechanism that we believe in.” And every time they ask us to engage through the same mechanism, and every time we see the same failure, with no result whatsoever. From 1993 until 2014, we have failed. Why we have failed? First of all, there is no third party involvement. We need a third party to be involved, to play a role. Without third party involvement and participation there is no possibility for any progress, because if one party out of two does not want progress, there is no progress.

And Israel, you know, does not want any progress. The occupation is profitable to Israel. Economically it is profitable, because when Israel occupied our territories in 1967 they destroyed our economy. Our economy became totally dependent upon the Israeli economy. Today the Palestinian market is the second largest consumer after the EU.

We are consuming 5 billion dollars of Israeli products annually. That means that the occupation is profitable. The occupation is militarily profitable, because Israel is the only country in the world that has not yet defined its own borders. And so, if they prolong the occupation one day more, they could annex more Palestinian territory, two days more - even better, a year more – much, much better, a generation more – even better. Nothing is left for the Palestinian state to establish its own borders on its own territory because Israel continues confiscating and annexing parts of the Palestinian territory every day. They claim that the territory is disputed and they have the right to annex it, they have the right to build settlements, to move their own people inside the Palestinian territory, to create new facts and new realities. Who are we to defeat this mentality and this military power? And when Hamas sends rockets here and there, everybody is saying: “Oh, they are sending the rockets to disturb the livelihoods of the Israelis.” I am not supporting Hamas; I am condemning that because this is stupid, this is really not feasible, and it is really a suicide mission.
But, you know, we expected the international community to be more understanding and to support the application and the implementation of international law, but that has not happened. Now, after so many years of trying, trying, trying, trying, and not succeeding… Every time they tell us: “Go to a new round of negotiations”, and we go, and nothing really happens because Israel wants negotiations for the sake of negotiations. And while we are negotiating, Israel keeps building settlements; it never stops building settlements. So, right now we have around 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian occupied territories. This is very problematic. So, when we said we need a third party presence, it is very important to correct the mistakes. If we want to learn from our mistakes, and to see why we have failed in the last 20 something years of negotiations, we should revise, review the process. I am not so blind as to say: “No, we have to keep repeating the same process, even if the process is a failure.” So, third party involvement is important. Beyond third party involvement, we have to define a timetable. We cannot keep this process open-ended. That is best for Israel. We cannot afford an open-ended process, for Palestinian territories are being eaten up day by day. The two-state solution option is becoming impossible to implement, because with settlement construction Israel will impede the establishment of a contiguous, viable state of Palestine. A timetable is important. That is why we say: “Let us take Timor-Leste as an example versus Kosovo as an example.” We approached Timor-Leste by defining a timetable for the independence. And look what happened. Timor-Leste is today an independent state while in Kosovo we said, we need to reach certain achievements, build on these achievements - but these achievements will be achieved through what? The collaboration relies on two parties, and if one party is not interested, achievements cannot be reached. That is why we are stuck with Kosovo. A timetable is important. The endgame is important. We have to define the endgame, what we want to achieve by ending the occupation; the establishment of Palestinian state is in the two-state solution option. What are the terms of reference? We have to define terms of reference. They are these: 1967 borders, Jerusalem – capital of the state, territorial exchange, swaps - these have to be identified. If we do not define these elements, the whole exercise is fruitless. And this is exactly what Israel wants. To maintain the fruitless exercise, buying time, creating new facts on the ground, and making a two-state solution option an impossibility by the end of the process, if there is an end to the process.

That is why we decided after the last failure, when John Kerry could not deliver based on his promise, that we, the Palestinians, must change our own strategy. Very simple! We are not going to change the strategy per se, but want to change the way in which we want to act. Instead of being stuck at the starting point for the last 20 something years, and not being able to progress one centimeter, we want to jump to the end, to the conclusion, and to do reverse engineering. Why? Because the end goals are clearly identified. What is the end? Ending the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of the two state solution option. Everybody agrees. How to do that? By defining a timetable. We have said this: “How long does Israel need to achieve this and to end the occupation, like Timor-Leste?” And through the discussions we have had with our brothers and friends, we said maybe November 2016. We have defined a timetable, November 2016 is a deadline for us, when we should achieve a peace agreement through a negotiated process. We are not replacing negotiations. At least if we pass that resolution in the Security Council - we want to present it as a resolution of the Security Council - if we get it passed, it means that we can go back to negotiate with Israel. Regarding how we are going to implement it, we want to move gradually from now until November 2016. I wish Israel will by then complete its withdrawal from the Palestinian occupied territories, and the Palestinian state will become independent. This is exactly the approach that we want to have. And, of course, we started circulating this resolution. Everybody started telling us: “Well, we should take into consideration the midterm elections in the United States because if we present it before this, it might affect the outcome of the elections and this will anger the Americans to a certain degree.” Others will tell us: “Maybe if you present it today, you might not get the minimum nine votes in the Security Council. Even if you get the nine votes you might get a US veto, so why don't you wait until January 1st 2015, when there will be a change in the [non-permanent] Security Council members, five will leave, and five will get in. You will have a better chance, etc.” So, different ideas were floating around. What is important to us, is getting a minimum of nine votes, and that is why we started speaking to all 15 members of the Security Council. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is no longer a [non-permanent] member of the SC2; we could have gained the support of Azerbaijan in that context. But, you know, we are talking to all the 15 together, we hope we will be able to achieve nine votes, and when we will get that, we will start talking to the Americans in order to avoid a US veto. An abstention is much better than a veto. At the end of the day, we are using that draft resolution language, the same language the Americans used in the guarantee letter they gave to us, in order for us to enter that last round of negotiations. We hope the US will not veto the same language they used in their letter when it is transformed into Security Council resolution. We will see. It will be an embarrassing moment for the US to do that. We are not trying to embarrass anyone. We are not trying to confront anyone. We believe that we are defending our rights, and we are seeking at least partial justice for the Palestinians and to the Palestinian cause. That is why we want to go in that direction. We hope we will succeed. Moreover, part of my visit here, in Azerbaijan, in Baku, is aimed at explaining to the leadership this new strategy, and at getting their support for what we are intending to do. As I have said, the moment that the resolution is passed, then we are ready to sit and to engage with Israel over a period of time, until November 2016, in order to agree all elements of the implementation of the resolution.
Everybody agrees that resolving the conflict is overdue. It is the responsibility of the international community. We have sensed a wave of change sweeping Europe. We have seen the decision taken by the Swedish government to recognize the state of Palestine; we hope it will happen next month in November. We have seen a non-binding vote in the UK parliament, the British Parliament, when 274 members have voted in favor, 12 against asking their country to recognize Palestine as a state. We have heard French officials speaking about this issue. We have seen huge demonstrations taking place in EU capitals during the latest Israeli aggression against people in Gaza. The destruction was beyond any kind of
imagination. 2,322 people were killed. The majority are children and women. More than 11,000 have been injured, the majority of whom are children and women, left with permanent disabilities. More than 15,000 houses were destroyed partially or totally. All the infrastructure has been destroyed: schools, mosques, churches, infrastructure, electricity, water and everything. Instead of responding positively, Israel, obliged as an occupying power under the Geneva Conventions to provide security and protection to the people under occupation, has done exactly the opposite. And that is why we feel that our request to Switzerland to organize that conference on providing protection to the people is necessary, and should reflect how irresponsibly Israel is behaving toward its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. We always believe that in order for stability to thrive in the region, the Palestinian issue has to be resolved. We also believe that resolving the Palestinian problem should come through negotiations, but the process of negotiations has failed us totally and miserably over the last 20-something years. The United Nations is a multilateral system that was intended in the first place to serve cases like ours, but the international community fails us. We seek to live alongside the state of Israel, to coexist with the state of Israel as part of a two-state solution. There are so many challenges ahead of us, and these challenges cannot be undertaken unless justice prevails, unless we resolve the Palestinian problem. That is why we are ready as Palestine to engage to the fullest with the international community to see how such problems are really being addressed and resolved. In order for that to happen we need first to get justice, and to get our own independent state, at least in order to guarantee that my son can come back and live next to us.