2016 Palestine Center Annual Conference: Keynote Address by Ambassador Riyad H. Mansour

Video & Edited Transcript
2016 Palestine Center Annual Conference: Keynote Address
Ambassador Riyad H. Mansour 
Transcript No. 470 (November 11, 2016) 

To see Panel 1, click here. To see Panel 2, click here

Ambassador Riyad Mansour:
Thank you, thank you very much. He (Dr. Subhi Ali) is a good friend of mine and I’m always, every time we meet, whether today or a few years ago or years before that, I always have a wonderful personal exchange with him as friends. And we also have even family relations because my nephew is married to his niece and that sort of strengthened the relationship between us further, you know, Palestinian style. When you have people you know married from different families, you know, then they tend to become even closer. So I am very delighted, to be here.

I’ve seen also quite a few of some of my old friends and I just want to commend you, Dr. Subhi, and your board, and the organization of Jerusalem Fund for all the wonderful things that you do in advancing the cause of justice for the Palestinian people. We thank you very much for your work, and of course we know that you will continue this course even if things become more complicated and more difficult. And I will always support your efforts, and I will always be with you in doing whatever I can in order to allow you to accomplish your objectives in the best possible way.

We meet today–it’s becoming like a cliche for Palestinians officials, when we meet, we feel, we meet at a critical time. Every time, we’re meeting at a critical time. Of course you know next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation to the land of the state of Palestine, including Jerusalem of course. Fifty years of occupation is way too long of occupation. Occupations usually are supposed to be of a temporary nature. They last for a few years and then they should end to allow for reversing the situation to the way it was before occupation. So, fifty years of occupation is way too long for the Palestinian people to endure this ruthless military system of oppression against the total population of the Palestinian people who live in the Occupied Territory and for those also who live in the Diaspora.

And next year also we will note seventy years of Nakba, of the creation of Israel and the catastrophe that the Palestinian people went through and are still going through, including the millions who live in refugee camps, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. And of course at the end of next year also we will remember, with tremendous amount of pain, the infamous Balfour Declaration in which our national homeland was promised by a colonial power to address issues in Europe at the expense of the Palestinian people in one hand and also at the expense of the Jews in Europe instead of dealing with their tragedies in Europe, on the basis of those who created those tragedies for them to correct their conduct, including anti-semitism in Europe. But yet, they decided to expel many of them and add to their tragedies and create for us a Nakba in 1948. So it’s a double whammy for us and for them.

Now this is the moment, or the time for us, that we’ll be going through next year, which put us in a situation at the Mission of the State of Palestine at the UN, myself and my team, to legislate a few things, including authorizing the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people to conduct many activities in collaboration with U.N. agencies, with countries, with civil societies, with regional organizations, to do activities with the view of ending this occupation. And, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people will do all of its activities and all of you are invited to be involved in your own capacities and in the way that you wish to be active. Under the banner of 2017 will be the “International Year to End Israeli Occupation”. So this is one piece of legislation that we will adopt at the United Nations.

Now, one can say that the situation of the Palestinian people is so difficult and so miserable and it is, and occupation has been there for way, way too long and there are walls, there are settlements, there is the isolation and the blockade, which is immoral and illegal against two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. East Jerusalem is being severed from the remaining part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine, so when you cut the heart from the rest of the body, the heart will not function nor will the rest of the body be functioning, so one can say that our situation could be characterized as very miserable, frustrating, and difficult, yet we the Palestinian people have a certain quality that we are resilient. We don’t give up. We always rise up from the ashes and tend to articulate our strategies and tactics to continue the struggle.

And in this connection, I can tell you that I have been personally involved for the last, I don’t know how many years, in articulating a strategy to counter the Israeli strategy on the ground. Their strategy is to create illegal facts on the ground: Stealing our land, building settlements. This is illegal from the point of view of international law. Unfortunately, there is no political will in the international community, particularly in the Security Council, to hold those who are violating international law and committing all those crimes accountable. Because, you know, we have the law so that the thieves could be deterred from stealing but yet we have the law so if somebody tries to break that law, to steal, then they will be held accountable, they go to jail. In our case [it is] international humanitarian law, which was invented by the West, specifically the Europeans, in order to conduct their behaviours when they fight, that occupiers and occupied people [have] to be following certain patterns of international law of civilization.

So that there are things that the occupier can do and things cannot do. One of them, you cannot transfer part of your population from your land to the occupied territory to build settlements. That is illegal. They say to us all the time in the Security Council – in fact, there is a unanimous position on the illegality of settlements- they tell us it is illegal, an obstacle to peace but they don’t tell us in the Security Council what are they going to do about Israel conducting itself in this illegal manner. Meaning, they tell us we have in the books law to say it is illegal to steal or to kill and we know that there are killers and thieves, but they don’t tell us what they’re going to do with those killers and thieves when they violate the law, and here I am referring for example in the case of settlement. So, their strategy is to create illegal facts on the ground–illegal– and without being held accountable because there’s a powerful country, particularly in the Security Council that is shielding them and protecting them from accountability too. SO, they don’t care what the U.N. does and they continue in this illegal behavior.

So, our strategy has been for– I don’t know how many–years, at least the last five, six or longer, you create illegal facts on the ground. Our people are steadfast, staying on their land, they’re resisting peacefully. A shining example of what our people do every week, in a village by the name of Bil’in, in which they struggle peacefully with pacifists from Israel, with internationals in order to push the wall away from their land of the village and to liberate more of their land, which is their land, and to push the wall to be close to the Green Line. And, there are many examples of struggles of our people in the occupied territory. But in our, in my field, at the United Nations, the strategy has been, “Okay, you are creating a legal fact on the ground.” I want to create legal, diplomatic, political facts at the international arena. And this why we decided in 2011 and 2012 to go to the general assembly to legislate the recognition of the state of Palestine on the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital and to change the status to an observer state, meaning that we resolve the issue whether the state of Palestine exists or not.

So, we require the recognition of more than two-thirds majority at the international level in the U.N. to recognize the state of Palestine and therefore to change the status to an observer state. That opened the door for us to join many treaties and conventions, including the international Criminal Court. So, while they are creating illegal facts on the ground, we create legal facts by becoming equal as a state party in so many things, like the climate change, the law of the sea, the whole package of human rights, the right of women, of children, the right of the disabled, and so on and so forth. They fight us and even they accuse us of what we’re doing. They call this diplomatic terrorism, and their actions, which is a blunt, clear violation of the law and they should be held accountable for it, including committing war crimes because according to statutes of the I.C.C., the International Criminal Court, if you transfer part of your civilian population and plant them on the land of the occupied territory, it’s a war crime.

So, they are committing war crimes according to Articles of International Law and we are committing legal, civilized, peaceful action by changing out status to a state, strengthening the pillars of the state in the international arena and creating every day diplomatic and political realities. Sometimes they say to us, including one time, Bolton said that before he was removed as an ambassador of the U.S. to the United Nations–and by the way, we hear rumors that he might be coming back again to New York–when he fights against our resolution in order to convince people not to vote in favor of this resolution and when he is defeated, he says, “These resolutions are meaningless. They don’t mean anything. They have–they are just only ink on piece of paper.” No. They’re not. Upholding international law is not a joke. It is something serious.

So while we’re deepening the pillar of Palestine in the international arena, one might ask: What is the value of that? I can tell you the values is tremendous. Maybe for those who are not in the trenches to see the meaning and value of Palestine as a state–as marching slowly in the direction of eventually Washington and Tel Aviv–cannot deny the fact that we exist as a nation, we exist as a state, and the land of our state is under occupation, and it will be a matter of time before they have to accept this reality. Because when the world accepts us as a state, when the world is excited about us, when we put ballots in the boxes and we vote as a state, when the world is accepting us to be a responsible state and to elect us a vice president of this conference, a vice president of that convention, these are but small steps in the direction of saying you can steal part of our land, and build more settlement, but you cannot erase the fact that Palestinian people exist and they are recognized and welcomed by the great majority of nations as a state, and we are continuing this march.

And, in this connection, we started a process about a month and a half ago, of trying to legislate something in the Security Council, particularly around settlements, because they are telling us–as I said –in the Security Council that settlements are illegal and the main obstacle to peace. I said “Fine, if this is your position, and we agree with you, tell us what you’re going to do about it.” They are not telling us what they want to do about it. Then, we said the Palestinian Observer is going to tell you what we are going to do about it. We are going to legislate something to that effect. And in fact, just a few days ago, we had a resolution adopted in the fourth committee on settlements; and for the first time, we used language of condemnation and we use and succeeded in negotiations with the Europeans who voted–all of them–unanimously in favor of that resolution that if Israel does not abide but its obligation, under international law, and the provisions of the charter, with regard to settlements, then the option of considering accountability is an option to be put on the table. That is good for you Phyllis, with regard to BDS and other things. Meaning there is a possibility of a small door to be opened for sanctions, quote unquote. They are forcing us to go that route. If you are not listening to the law and not listening to what everybody is telling you to do, now after a long march, particularly with the Europeans, they are accepting the concept that if you don’t abide by the law, then we will be possibly entertaining the concept of accountability.

Of course, they don’t use sanctions. I know that this is a big word, and they’re afraid of it, but the march in that direction–you have to do it one step at a time. And, I believe some of these steps are taking place. So, it is not as gloomy as one can think although the Israeli government is working day and night to have erosions of our position at the United Nations. They might be influencing one African country, influencing in another place. But in general, they are not fundamentally succeeding in this arena. So, that’s part of our strategy as we move forward.

Now, with regard to this resolution, as I said, on settlements, we had very constructive consultations with all members of the Security Council and we gave them a sheet of paper, one page that constitutes the elements where we believe it should be contained in such a resolution. Of course, some of the Arabs and some in Washington D.C., they were saying wait until the election because they were thinking that Hillary Clinton would win and they were insinuating that the President, before he leaves might put on the table a draft resolution and parameters. So, in the negotiation with them, I said to Samantha, “We have two products for you.” When I went with the Global Arab Ambassador as part of our negotiation with members of the Security Council [I said], “Here, we have a draft resolution on settlements. The President Barack Obama is saying that he wants to preserve the two-state solution. The main obstacle against the two-state solution is settlements. So, adopting a resolution on settlements would serve his objective of trying to preserve the two-state solutions. If you don’t like that, we have another product for you. Okay, allow our application in the Security Council for admission as a full member of the state of Palestine to be adopted. [If] you don’t like Option A, you don’t like Option B, tell us what you have.” But, if you tell us after the election, you’re not going to do anything, we are not going to accept that option.

We’re not going to wait until the Trump administration to take place in January because if we wait until that, we know that that administration will tell us, “Wait until we constitute ourself. Wait until we get ready.” Wait, wait, wait, the story of our life with the U.S. administration is nonstop waiting. We’re not going to wait. So, it’s either you put on the table something that we look at, or we are going to advance our plans for having a resolution and settlement.

Of course, we send a report to the Arab foreign ministers with all the detailed positions of all the fifteen countries on these two drafts, and we are awaiting instructions from them and I sincerely hope that they have the guts and the spine to say proceed with a draft resolution and settlement, and we will see. We are not looking for a veto. But, we want the U.S. administration, including President Barack Obama, before he leaves, to do something congruent with his position and what he articulates every day that he wants to preserve the two-state solution. We think the resolution and settlement is extremely useful, because Israel needs to receive a strong political message from the international community that the international community cannot continue to tolerate their intransigence and disregard for international law and to the wish of the international community. So, we will see.

Hopefully soon, something will happen, and I personally sincerely hope that we can proceed in the Security Council and try to have a resolution adopted on settlements. That’s on the Security Council front. If the new administration, and I hope that they do not show belligerency against us–more than we’ve seen– but if they want to start attacking us left and right, moving the capital to Jerusalem and to condone settlements and what have you, then nobody should blame us from unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the United Nations to defend ourselves. And we have, believe me, a lot of weapons. We are not a small something at the United Nations. We are strong, well respected, well supported by more than 150, 160, 170 countries that vote occasionally in favor of our resolutions against a handful of countries, including Israel and the United States, and I don’t want to count Micronesia and Solomon Islands and other countries that altogether do not, you know, reach even the number of both of your hands. Five, two, three, six–Canada is among them. But of course, we hope that Canada would change its behavior and conduct itself in a different way, and we are engaging them. If you can also engage them, by all means, and also engage the new administration not to show more of an excessive, unfair, negative position against the Palestinian people. They need to be as balanced as possible if they want to contribute to solving this conflict after fifty years of occupation, after seventy years of the Nakba. I think that they should resort to a balanced approach and by all means we invite all of our friends who have influence with Washington or could have influence with Washington to work in this regard.

For us, internally, we need to put an end to our division. We need to put an end to the fact that we have Gaza and Ramallah. We need to have national unity because national unity is in the essence of the national interest of the Palestinian people. We can disagree within the house, but we should not divide the house. We should put an end to this division. We need to have national unity. We need, of course, to agree on details of the strategy of how we conduct ourself as we move forward, particularly after the American elections and after we put our house in order, and also taking into account what is really happening in the Middle East.

Finally, to our friends in the civil society organizations, including BDS, we appreciate what you do. You are playing a very important role in complementing the struggle of the Palestinian people whether on the ground or in the field and all fields. We are all complementing each other for the same objective of accomplishing the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.

We will do more things in New York with a committee on the exercise of the inalienable Rights with all civil society organizations, including those in the United States of America working in all fields including BDS. It was the Israeli ambassador who brought 1,000 Jewish American students to New York to combat BDS. When the journalist asked me, “What do you think of that?” I said, “He is the one who is bringing this issue to the agenda of the U.N., and it is not the agenda of the U.N., and I said bring it on.”

So, I invite our friends in BDS and other organizations, you are welcome to come to New York. You are welcome to organize your conferences and meetings, and we will be helping you there in order to really help the struggle of the Palestinian people to put an end to this tragedy. I think I spoke more than enough. I don’t want to be gloomy–[suggesting] that we are helpless and we cannot do anything. We can do a lot and we are doing a lot. Thank you very much.