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of Faisal Husseini

Opening Statement of Palestinian Delegation

Presented at the Steering Committee for the 
Multilateral Middle East Peace Talks
(Moscow - Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, 2000)
I would like to start by thanking the Government of Russia for hosting this meeting of the Steering Committee of the Multilateral Middle East Peace Talks.  The Palestinian delegation comes to this round of Peace Talks hoping for real progress in the final status negotiations in accordance with those principles defined in the Madrid Peace Conference, Oslo and Interim Agreements as well as the compliance of involved parties with international law, namely UN Resolutions 242 and 338. 
Although an atmosphere of hope accompanied the election of Prime Minister Barak, Palestinians have not witnessed the expected progress.  The Israeli Government has again proven that it is reticent to implement the steps outlined in the negotiated agreements. 
 1. The implementation of the second redeployment was slow and implemented without consulting the Palestinian leadership.  There is also deep concern that Israeli by-pass roads and Israeli settlements deprives Palestinians of their land and prevents contiguity in the emerging Palestinian State.

 2. Strict Israeli limitations on the release of Palestinian prisoners, especially those from Jerusalem, has also caused a great deal of dissent within the Palestinian public and has made the release a source of unneeded tension instead of reconciliation.

 3. The opening of one of the first safe passage was also late and in real terms has not given free access between Gaza and the West Bank. 

Moreover, despite the agreement of both Israel and the PLO to desist from taking unilateral actions that either preempt or prejudge the outcome of the Permanent status negotiations, Israel has continued to create facts on the ground to consolidate its control of the occupied territory.  These actions shake the confidence and progress of the Peace Process and undermine the environment necessary for productive negotiations. 

Most disturbingly, the current Israeli government has approved the construction of 5,400 new living units in illegal Israeli settlements. This pace of settlement activity even surpasses that of the previous Likud led Israeli government. Moreover, the construction of the illegal "Har Homa" settlement on Jabal Abu Ghneim has closed the ring of settlement around Jerusalem and the illegal settlements inside Palestinian neighborhoods such as Ras al-Amud, Hebron and the Old City Jerusalem continue to provoke hostility on a daily basis.

Israel has also continued to isolate and change the topography of Jerusalem in defiance of its agreements and the Fourth Geneva Convention.  By denying Palestinians secure residency rights, demolishing Palestinian homes, and restricting Palestinian residential building in Jerusalem, and continuing the military closure around Jerusalem, Israel sabotages Palestinian national rights to its future capital.  The Israeli military closure has also severely inhibited Palestinians freedom of movement and decimated the Palestinian economy.

In an effort to build confidence and progress quickly in the Peace Process, Israel must immediately stop settlement construction and the confiscation of more Palestinian lands.  They must also now carry out the third redeployment without any delay in addition to the release of all Palestinian political prisoners including the Jerusalemites and other Arab prisoners.

It is equally important that the international community not endorse Israel's unilateral actions and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before arriving at a final solution.  Any diplomatic move to do recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will violate the international resolutions and endanger the whole Peace Process.

If Israeli policies of settlement expansion continue to erode the spirit of the Peace Process, the path toward achieving a durable peace will be put in jeopardy.   How is it possible to talk in good faith on the future arrangements and relations between the Palestinian Independent State within the borders of 4 June 1967 and the Israeli State while the latter is proceeding in changing the geographic and demographic face of Palestine.

Mr. President,

The Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people committed themselves strongly to the principles of the Middle East Peace Process as defined in the Madrid Conference and the Oslo and interim agreements.  We did so with the expectation that our bilateral agreements as well as those rights outlined by the United Nations would be respected. 

It must be stressed that until Israel abides by its obligations and commitments there will be no real progress achieved on any track.  Without real progress in the bilateral track, being the core for the peace process, any real accomplishment on the multilateral tracks will never occur.  For this reason I ask that the members of the multilateral talks use their influence to help monitor and enforce the established agreements.

Regional co-operation is not an alternative choice or simply a desirable goal; it is the necessary outcome of a durable peace. If we cannot find a way to forward, we will be forced to go back.  Any obstruction or marginalization of the bilateral negotiations threatens stability in our region and jeopardizes the whole process.  It is high time that all the parties actively work to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region. 

Also it is high time that Israel acknowledges the principles consecrated in UN Resolution 194 and 110 subsequent UN resolutions, namely the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and receive restitution for their properties.  By the same token, Israel must acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to control their land and natural resources as well as to establish their independent sovereign state within the framework of UN Resolution 242 and 338.  Only when this has been accomplished will Palestine and Israel be in parity with each other and serve as a catalyst for achieving genuine regional cooperation and integration instead of being an impediment.

Historic conciliation requires a sense of historic responsibility.  If we want a durable peace and regional cooperation, we cannot continue to defer and evade.  We must seriously address the central issues, particularly the issue of Jerusalem and its future as two capitals within an open city.  For this reason the Palestinian delegation requests that the Steering Committee officially sanction the establishment of a new working group to address the issue of Jerusalem.  We believe that the involvement of the international community is an essential catalyst to fostering a suitable environment between the two parties for negotiating peace on the issue of Jerusalem.  With a view to regional stability and economic cooperation, we see Jerusalem as the future capital of the entire region.

Again, the envisioned future cooperation in the region depends on Israel's compliance with UN Resolutions, including a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights and South Lebanon.  As we enter the 21st century, let us hope that we will find the courage to build the foundation of durable regional peace with Jerusalem as the warm sun of a new Middle East.

Faisal Husseini


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