2018 Palestine Center Annual Conference: Keynote Lecture

Video & Transcript
Ambassador Dr. Riyad H. Mansour
Transcript No. 512 (November 16, 2018)

Dr. Riyad H. Mansour:

Good morning everyone. Thank you very much Dr. Subhi Ali for the introduction. Also, I want to thank the Palestine center [and] the Jerusalem fund for inviting me again to be with you, to share some of our thoughts and ideas and perhaps to entertain some questions and remarks by those who want to raise issues. I’ve been in this place I think two weeks ago, there was another conference by the Ecumenical Foundation and it is always a delight to be in this place. I want to congratulate you for all the good things that you do in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people. Also, I am delighted that there are two individuals from the Department of Public Information at the United Nations, the Palestine unit, Shima and Yazan, and also, I am honored that we have seven young Palestinian journalists who are in Washington and in New York for training and they are with us here. I met with them in New York a few days ago and I am sure that they’re learning as much as possible [about] the industry of journalism and media in the United States and in the United Nations, so that they can improve their skills in doing what they do in the best possible way. Learn, learn, learn, ask questions all the time, don’t be afraid to express your opinions. Of course, I see many other friends here, some of them in the media like Said and other old friends. I am delighted to be with you here.

Now you all know that when this current administration came into power, the first period, the first few months of that administration, they articulated a position in which they were saying that they want to solve this protracted conflict that lasted for too long. President Trump even said, since he appointed his son-in-law to deal with the situation, he can resolve this complicated issue maximum in three months. So, there was tremendous amount of hype and hope in the air and in fact in the few meetings that we had with President Trump and his team, whether in Washington DC or in New York, you know that the messages that were transmitted, “We can do it. We should do it. This long-lasting complicated issue needs to be resolved very quickly.” That was the atmosphere, then on December 6th of last year a ‘nuclear bomb’ was unleashed or dropped on our heads, the title of it was that the United States of America will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and will relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Of course, this new unexpected earthquake [is] in complete violation of international law and Security Council resolutions, especially resolution 476, 478, and 2334, also in complete radical departure from [the] existing US policy since 1947. Well you know caught us by surprise, where did this come from? The amazing thing [is] that this huge gift that was given to Israel was given for free. Those who make the art of the deal usually, if I give you something you give me something in return, but I don’t think that the principles of the art of the deal, I would give you something for free and then we will see what you will give me in the future, such deals in my opinion have nothing to do with the art of anything not alone to say that the art of making deals. Then that step was followed by other steps, including on the 14th of May of 2018 the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then followed by the refugees off the table, UNRWA, which is a fantastic agency by the admission of all those who are very familiar with it, with the multilateralism and the work at the United Nations. It is a model of success of an agency that looks after refugees until there is a just political solution to the conflict. They decided to deny that agency 300 million dollars after they committed themselves, the year before and in January, that they will pay the money and they selected not to do that. Also, the few millions, I think maybe there are 30-some million dollars, that were given annually to hospitals in East Jerusalem that take care of the Palestinians, also that money was denied, that helps patients including children, also that was denied, and then this process continued to unfold.

For those who were waiting for the deal of deals, you might still have to continue to wait. What we saw is the implementation of the deal of deals. It is an awful deal, a deal that will not move us closer to peace it is moving us in the complete opposite direction. In spite of the fact that the US administration might say, that their deal of deals’ objective of it is peace, their action speaks louder than any articulation they might have and the action is what they are doing is moving us away from this and moving us in the direction of the continuous tragedy as has been since the Nakba. It is adding to the very complicated explosive situation, tragic situation, unfolding in the Middle East as was described by Dr. Subhi who came from Amman few days ago. The feelings that he transmitted to you about there’s something unnatural unfolding in the Middle East from what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, just to name only a few very tragic situations that have been unfolding in the Middle East for the last how many years. So that it is very unfortunate that the US administration is moving in that direction which is not giving anyone serious expectations that this so-called the deal of the century will be released soon, or we’ll be addressing the issue in an effective way. To add also to the complexity of the situation that in the Israeli side the Minister of War Lieberman resigned, and it is very conceivable that the Israeli government might collapse, and an early election might be scheduled. I don’t think that the US administration would be in the frame of mind of putting anything on the table when the Palestinian side is not accepting it and when the Israeli side might be busy with early election. So, for those who are still waiting for that huge bundle of things, I guess you have to wait for a longer period of time, and you might wait until the [US] election of 2020 and see what will happen after that election.

So that is the situation that we are going through. Then what are we doing in order to sustain ourselves and to continue the struggle for opening doors for meaningful processes, that would lead to the end of occupation, the independence of our state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and therefore accomplish that globally accepted solution, which is a two-state solution? The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, articulated the position very accurately. He said that there is no plan B for the two-state solution. Now of course there are among us some who think the one state solution is the solution. I will come back to this point when we talk a bit about the nationality law which was adopted recently by the Knesset in Israel. The only thing that I want to say now, I will dwell on this issue more, is that if you look at what is happening to our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are citizens of the State of Israel, for the last 71 years did not accomplish equality or that there are the citizens of one state equal in citizenship. What they cultivated just recently [is] a nationality law in which the only group of people in Israel that are entitled to self-determination are the Jews, denying more than 25 percent that right including 21 percent who are Palestinian Arabs, regardless of their religious affiliation. About 5 percent who are Russians but yet are not Jews, most of them are Orthodox and during the last few years revealed the fact that they are not Jews serving in the Israeli army and doing other things. They just fled the Soviet Union during that time and come off by pretending to be Jews, pretending to be other things. Then with time in Israel they start mustering enough courage to say that they’re not Jews, they are Orthodox, some of them in the Israeli army wearing the cross around their necks and not being afraid to show their identity and their affiliation. All of them have no right to self-determination in the State of Israel. So, I said the first thing that for us to face this situation is the steadfastness of our people in the ground. Palestinians today will never leave Palestine. We’ve done that in past, we made mistakes of that nature especially in 1948 when large numbers of Palestinians left as refugees or were forced to live as refugees. This time around no matter what the Israeli occupation does to us we are determined to stay in our land, and our number now between the sea and the river is almost equal to the Jews in the same area. In fact, according to some statistics, we might be a bit more than them and within the years to come the percentage in our favor will increase, so the first element in our strategy is the steadfastness on our land.

The second element strategy in our strategy, we are not succeeding yet in accomplishing it, is to put an end to this illogical division between the two parts of the state of Palestine. All those who are acting on the basis of selfishness are not elevating themselves to the national requirement of what we need as we face all the challenges, including the so-called deal of deals of President Trump. One of the sharpest tools in our hand to be stronger in facing it is to have national unity, and therefore to put an end to this division between Gaza and West Bank, [which] needs to be terminated as quickly as possible. In this regard we appreciate the effort of our Egyptian brothers who are helping us to put our house in order. That is the second tool that we need in order to be able to survive all of the challenges facing us and to contribute to the struggle to attain our national rights, all of them, the right to self-determination, to the independence of our state, and the right of the refugees to return and [receive] compensation in accordance with resolution 194. 

Now another element is with the area I where I work every day, in the international arena and an international arena specifically at the United Nations. We’re so far maintaining a massive international support to our cause and the details of our cause if you analyze the 16 resolutions adopted annually, including one which was adopted yesterday, reaffirming our right to self-determination which was adopted in the third committee. That resolution will come to the General Assembly for another round of voting on, by 169 votes in favor and 6 votes against. The 6 [are]: Israel, United States, Canada, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and a few number of states abstained. So, when we go to the General Assembly the tally will go up, we might reach 170 or so, and sometimes on this resolution we crossed 180. So there is almost a complete endorsement of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. All the other aspects of our rights including the applicability of the four Geneva Conventions on all international humanitarian law to the occupied Palestinian territory, considering the settlements as illegal and therefore need to be stopped to the old elements related to a just peaceful settlement to the conflict, on the basis of international law and relevant UN resolutions, that would eventually lead to the end of occupation and the independence of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital .

So, at the United Nations, in spite of all of the challenges that we are facing, I often say in Arabic, “We the Palestinian people are not orphans, there is still hope in this world.” Those who support justice are so strong and at the United Nations that they are not abandoning the Palestinian people. Of course the Israeli narrative [or] their leaders [say], “This is the automatic immoral majorities,” which is a racist articulation as if everyone in the United Nations are a bunch of idiots and a wizard by the name of representative of the Palestinian people is putting a spell in their minds [such] that they can cast this massive amount of positive voting in favor of the Palestinian people. Nonsense, often I say to them, “You’re telling me when the Europeans, 40 countries of them, vote unanimously in all 13 resolutions of political substance related to the question of Palestine, they’re just a bunch of idiots that we are able to convince them to act in that manner doesn’t make sense.” So, this is another important element in our struggle and steadfastness because it gives strength to our people in Gaza and other places, that we are not abandoned, we are not alone, the world is with us, the world is supporting us. So that this element also although it is not the number one element.

The number one element is the steadfastness and the struggle of our people in the ground. We are another element supporting it and they give us strength to behave in the best possible way as representative of such great people who are [as] steadfast on the ground as the Palestinian people. We always get inspired by the remarkable struggle and steadfastness of our people in the occupied territory. For example, when Israel two years ago tried to divide Al Aqsa Mosque into two parts, something remarkable happened. Palestinian people in Jerusalem, Muslims, Christians, those who worship, those who do not worship, those who drink alcohol, those who don’t, from all walks of life were united for twelve continuous days praying at the door or gates of Al Aqsa Mosque demanding that all the obstacles that Israel put, the wire gate and the smart gates, our people in a remarkable unity brought Israeli occupation to its knees and they had to remove all the obstacles that they put in their path. To me, when I see such a remarkable lesson of steadfastness in a peaceful way and all the violence comes from the Israeli army and the police against the civilians who are doing nothing but praying, those who do not pray started praying, you find Christians and Muslims praying next to each other, with such a remarkable message that was not only sent to the Israeli occupation but to the whole world. For them [the IDF] to retreat is an inspiring lesson for all those who want to learn from it. It’s inspiring to fight harder for that just cause in the international arena. Then after that came the issue of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in which they wanted to impose taxes on it, and for the first time in modern history the church closed, went on strike for three days and again the Israeli occupation was forced to reverse its policy.

So that’s the third component. Another component that is extremely important, a fourth one, in our general struggle, is our brothers and sisters who are Israeli citizens, Israeli Arabs who succeeded in the last round of elections of putting a unified list and were able to win thirteen seats. They are the second largest opposition party and if we have [an] election soon we will see how many seats they will acquire; it is conceivable that they might be the number one opposition party. Because of their strength and the fact that the younger generation among them are not as afraid as maybe the older generation, when Israel came into power. When Israel came into being in 47,48, 49, [or] 50 and they used to impose military restriction that not a single Palestinian-Israeli would be allowed to move from one town to another town and [was forced] to stay overnight without a permit. So that the atmosphere that was created was [an] atmosphere of horror and one can understand maybe the fear in the minds and hearts of our grandfathers and our fathers of that period of time. But with time, the following generations the younger ones are becoming not afraid of the Israeli institutions and fighting for their rights with more boldness and courage. Then things started to change and the number, from less than 200,000 to 1.8 million today of Palestinian Arabs composed from the Israeli population, things started changing. Now of course in the Israeli side things started changing more into the right, and what was amazing that after 70 years from the Nakba the Israeli establishment in the Knesset would go to the Knesset to establish a law the first element of which states that Israel is basically the national homeland of the Jews and only the Jews are entitled to exercise self-determination. In the early stages of the establishment of Israel they did not resort to such a law. They in 1950 had a law of return, any Jew anywhere would return to Israel and would acquire citizenship. In 1952 they had another law, they call it nationality but the nationality law of Israelis, it was not as we saw 70 years later. So, the first item of this awful law, apartheid law, that discriminates between the citizens of a state on the basis what are the color of their skin, in the case of South Africa, but in the case of Israel on the basis of your religious affiliation. if you are a Jew you are the only one entitled to exercise self-determination, the 25 percent who are not Jews they are not entitled for that right.

The other element in that piece of legislation in the Knesset was adopted by 62 to 55, which means that there was a massive amount of opposition to it from within Israel, especially from those within Israel on the Jewish side who were trying to maintain Israel as a democratic state. Meaning yes, it is Jewish but, yet it is democratic, that it allows even for secular Jews to be whatever they want whether they want to practice their religion or not, but to try to keep it that way and to stay within the domain of equality between all citizens regardless of their religious affiliation. Another element of it is with regard to the Arabic language. For the first time in 70 some years the Arabic language was demoted from being with Hebrew as the two official languages of the State of Israel into Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel, Arabic was demoted to an important language. Another element which is extremely important to us all Palestinians, which is item 7 in the law in which it stipulates that Jewish community settlements in the Land of Israel are very important, and should be supported by the government maintain, sustained, [and] defended. Which exactly means the annexation of the West Bank to follow the annexation of Jerusalem which took place in 67 and expanded further to expanded East Jerusalem to be more specific, which took place in the early 1980s. Now what is this with relation to us, the settlement? It is nothing except annexation.

Let me just read to you some of the positions   articulated by Israeli leaders, who were not afraid to call it basically annexation. Prime Minister Netanyahu stated and echoed about the nationality law, “This is the land of our fathers, this is our land we are here to stay forever. There will be no uprooting of communities [settlements] in the Land of Israel.” What is really amazing [is that] they have the tenacity and boldness today to legislate something like this under the light of the international community, not afraid of consequences because of the Trump administration in Washington that is shielding and defending them and because of some of the rights trends in Europe under the banner of populism and nationalism. Another leader, Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education [said], “Today the Israel Knesset moved from heading toward establishing a Palestinian state, to heading toward sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. The outpost regulations bill is the tip of the iceberg in applying sovereignty [annexation].” There are other leaders who would repeat the same notion.

What does international law say about annexation? Whether you want to go to the charter of the UN, which is like the constitution of international law, [to read] a provision that says, “There is no admissibility of the acquisition of land by force,” or Resolution 242 that reiterates this element about the unacceptability of acquisition of land by force, or Resolution 2334 of the Security Council that stipulates that any change to the borders of the 4th of June of 1967, including East Jerusalem as occupied territory, is not acceptable by the international community unless the two parties through negotiation agree to any modifications to the borders. The Security Council Resolutions 476 & 478, when Israel annexed and expanded historic Jerusalem during the Jordanian time from approximately five or six kilometers squared to about 78 kilometers square. Security Council resolutions say that any change to the status of Jerusalem, any illegal change of the status of Jerusalem is null and void and has no legal consequences. They tied [this] to those who moved embassies at that time, here I’m referring to Costa Rica and to El Salvador, Resolution 478 ask those who move their embassies to move them back to Tel Aviv in compliance with international law and Security Council resolutions. So you see that this nationality law not only deals with changing the character of Israel to deny 25 percent their right to self-determination, which is illegal, but it is also annexationist in nature of saying that the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem are all belonging to Israel and they characterize it as part of the Land of Israel, which is an annexation. So, this nationality law is not a threat against our brothers and sisters inside Israel alone, but it is a threat against all of us Palestinians including those who live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is ironic that in in the modern history, and I think I said that last time I was here, that three apartheid systems were put in place.

The first time was put in place in this great country of the United States of America, when you used to go to Charleston, South Carolina. If you go to the slave market you would be able to buy and sell slaves. Then after the Civil War, those who are still thinking in the apartheid system managed to distort the results of the Civil War by invoking the segregation law [used] to discriminate on the basis of color: separate but equal. You’d go to the court [where] you have two Bibles: a Bible for African-Americans and a Bible for white Americans. They said equal but separate. It took the United States of America almost 80 years to defeat that segregation law, which is a form of apartheid and the massive remarkable civil rights movement of all those who participated in it. I caught the tail end of it as a young kid coming from Palestine, because my father was a steel worker in Ohio and a refugee [who] managed by luck to acquire a green card after the [1948] war and came to the United States to take care of his family. I’m proud that he kept fighting for his identity and nationality and went back to Palestine and retired there, died there, and [is] buried there. Yet he was a steelworker in Ohio and a refugee from Palestine, [who] produced a son who is the representative of the state of Palestine.

So, this is where we are, it’s an annexation and violation of international law going back to this first phase in history of legislating apartheid. We know that it required at the end during the time of President Johnson, to put laws in the books that cannot ask an African-American to have a PHD in order to be able to fill the form to vote. Although we see some symptoms of that today, nevertheless it was simplified so that all who are citizens of the United States of America [are] not to be discriminated [against] because of the color of their skin and not to [be prevented from] participating in the voting process. That dark history of the United States of America was known and that phenomena was defeated because of the collective struggle of so many people in the United States of America to make America a better America than the way it was before.

Then this awful system of apartheid was legislated again in South Africa. They said that there are different systems for those who are African blacks, Asians who are dark or Indians, and white. Of course, it became the infamous system known as the system of apartheid in South Africa. Humanity led by our brothers and sisters in South Africa, the United States, and everywhere at the United Nations played a remarkable role to defeat that awful system under the brilliant leadership of Nelson Mandela. This is the second time in history in which this awful system was tried and was defeated. Now for the third time in history, the Israeli Knesset legislates apartheid, segregation, and discrimination against people on the basis of their religious affiliation. I believe that this time [it] will be defeated as well and it is our collective duty, including all of you sitting in this room and those who are watching, to do everything possible not to allow this new phase of apartheid to succeed. I am completely confident that it will not succeed, it will be defeated. How long it will take? I don’t know, but the sooner the better to defeat it because we do not need to have more than 100 years, almost 200 years or longer in the United States to defeat the awful system of slavery and segregation, and 50 years to defeat the system of apartheid in South Africa. In our case it has to be defeated in shorter period of time.

I was told initially, “Your main speech is about the nationality law,” but I don’t think that I can speak about the nationality law without speaking about the first part of my presentation, about the situation on the ground, and how we Palestinians need to sharpen our tools in order to survive, to make our questions relevant, and to eventually succeed in the attainment of our national rights – all of them including the right to self-determination statehood and the rights of the refugees.

Our situation is difficult, I cannot kid you and say that it is not difficult. But we have the capability and the resiliency as Palestinians to try to minimize the harm and suffering of our people, if we manage to put our house in order, if we manage to use all the tools available to us including the legal tools, all peaceful, (and) all civilized. I’m honored that in this complicated situation in the Middle East as was described by Dr. Subhi and all of the challenges that we are facing, the 134 countries at the United Nations, which constitute the group of 77, to elect the state of Palestine to be the chair of this group in negotiating 70 percent of the agenda of the United Nations related to good things and advancement of humanity in so many different fields. While multilateralism is being under attack by those who are advocating isolationism and narrow nationalism, to select the state of Palestine to undertake that position is a great trust by the international community in our qualities and capability of leading humanity on all these issues, from eradication of poverty, to climate change, to better education, to better health system. It is a great honor for the state of Palestine to be able to do that in the year 2019 and we are preparing our team, training our team. We want to prove to those who still have doubts that we do not exist as a state, because we exist as a state, but our land is under occupation – we want to prove to them that we are a state, we walk like one, we talk like one, and we are responsible enough to lead humanity as a very responsible state in dealing with all these complicated issues. I thank you very much.