Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture

Delivered by UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd

Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden, 27 November 2009

Rights, Justice and United Nations Values:

Reflections through a Palestine Refugee Prism

Distinguished guests:

In the United Nations and the world of international relations, the name "Dag Hammarskjöld" bears a weight and import few others can match. Every institution, early in its history, experiences periods in which its essence is as yet indistinct, waiting to be crystallized by the quality of its leaders and the choices they make.

The United Nations was at such a juncture when, in the spring of 1953, Dag Hammarskjöld was appointed Secretary-General. The Second World War had been followed by the Cold War, with the latter’s irreconcilable world views framing the new global battlefield. With each successive international crisis, the fledgling United Nations found itself buffeted by the clash of two world powers, each one increasingly assertive and more unabashed about employing the Security Council as an arena for playing out hostilities or jostling for spheres of influence.

In this inhospitable, turbulent terrain, without ready precedents to follow, Secretary-General Hammarskjöld forged for all time the United Nations spirit. By the sheer force of his unassailable integrity he infused the provisions of the United Nations Charter with meaning so genuine and profound that his tenure is, indisputably, the touchstone against which his successors will continue to be judged. Secretary-General Hammarskjöld’s standards of neutrality, unwavering in the face of the superior material and political power of member States, carved for the United Nations that uniquely independent space, above politics and conflict, which is indispensable to our ability to function to the present day. His clarity of vision and sense of justice energized a tireless, principled approach to conflict-resolution that could be usefully applied to the conflicts in the Middle East today.

Deeply introspective and reflective as he was, Secretary-General Hammarskjöld’s remarkable accomplishments were sustained by reserves of spirituality and inner strength. These qualities lent a dignity and gravity to his diplomatic endeavors, while serving as the source of his extraordinary courage.

I am honored to deliver a lecture bearing the name of one so illustrious. I express my sincere thanks to the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation for calling on me for this occasion. When I accepted the invitation to speak, I did so with a sense of humility centered on my belief that while humanitarian service is a privilege, rendering assistance and protection to refugees in general – and Palestine refugees in particular – is a special calling. In this, I associate myself with the sentiment expressed by Dag Hammarskjold himself, when he said in his 1954 "This I believe" radio programme, "…no life [is] more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country – or humanity".

The presence of all of you in this gathering recognizes the international relevance of the Palestinian and Palestine refugee condition and the interest Palestinian issues command well beyond the Middle East. My own presence here affords me, just over a month before my retirement, one more opportunity to share my views, employing as my lens the refugee prism, familiar to me from 28 years of United Nations service.

Our title presumes an alignment among rights, justice and the values of the United Nations. In the simplest terms, human rights and fundamental freedoms are matters of international law. They consist of liberties and entitlements guaranteed to everyone, without distinction. Justice is synonymous with the realization of rights, the enjoyment of freedoms and, in the event of breach, with restoration of rights and recompense for those affected.

The ties that bind rights, justice and the United Nations are clear from the meaning of the UN Charter’s provisions as expressed in the evolution of United Nations practice. The Charter’s preamble "…reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the human rights of men and women and of nations large and small", while emphasizing the determination of "the peoples of the United Nations" to "establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained."

The purposes of the United Nations include the mandate "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace and to bring about…in conformity with principles of justice and international law… settlement of international disputes". Article 55 of the Charter stipulates that the United Nations "…shall promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction…"

The Charter’s provisions are the foundations on which has been erected a matrix of conventions and instruments forming a significant part of modern international law and international relations. Many of these are well-known – the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1949 Geneva Conventions that restrain the use of armed force and protect civilians; the 1966 International Covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; the Conventions to prevent and punish crimes of genocide and torture (1948 and 1984) and to eliminate discrimination. These and other treaties and legal instruments have been reinforced by resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council on related issues such as the principles of political and economic self-determination.

The United Nations has served as progenitor, catalyst and facilitator for the progressive development of human rights and related principles, thus placing beyond debate the position that individuals and peoples – not only States – are worthy of, and entitled to, protection under international law. Over the years, the UN has nurtured and cemented these precepts through the practice of States and international institutions, imparting the force of international law to the notion that the rights and freedoms of individuals everywhere, regardless of their national or ethnic origin, can, and should, be the responsibility of States and peoples elsewhere.

The UN Charter’s framework resonates with the global audience. Equality, non-discrimination and human rights contain powerful messages of inclusion, protection and the egalitarian embrace of diversity. Palestinians, always keen observers of the international scene, rightly see themselves and the legitimacy of their cause reflected in the principles and purposes of the United Nations and in the instruments of human rights and international justice. These precepts constitute – and are seen as – the international community’s promises to the Palestinian people for which the United Nations bears responsibility to implement.

The question arising is the extent to which these promises have been fulfilled for the people of Palestine. To what degree has an alignment among rights, justice and UN values been achieved for Palestinians and Palestine refugees? If these questions are answered in the negative, how can we explain or rationalize the disarray in these concepts?

It is beyond question that harmony between rights and justice can be, and has been, achieved with UN involvement, for many nations and peoples. It is not lost on Palestinians that the United Nations facilitated from the 1940’s to the 1960’s the creation of scores of newly-independent nations (including the State of Israel), helping to liberate many from occupation, colonization and other forms of foreign domination. Palestinians are also aware that as these freshly liberated States were proudly taking their places at the General Assembly, their own territory remained embroiled in tensions and conflict, leading in 1967 to an occupation that remains in place today – the antithesis of self-determination. They are fully aware of contemporary advances in realizing rights and justice under the UN rubric and the examples in which the international community has successfully placed its weight behind efforts to resolve conflicts around the world.

Distinguished colleagues:

It would be an understatement to describe the situation facing Palestinians and Palestine refugees as one in which rights, justice and UN values are in discord or disorder. This might imply that the Palestinians benefit from rights and justice, even if not be realized to the full extent. That would suggest that the denial of Palestinian rights or the withholding of justice is caused by inadvertent omission.

From my years of living and working in Gaza and following the Palestinian issue from the vantage point of leading the largest humanitarian and human development agency in the Middle East, it seems to me that a striking feature of the present situation is the element of deliberate, purposeful method in imposing and maintaining the conditions Palestinians endure.

The current conditions Palestinians face are not the result of incidental omission. This is no chaotic, ad hoc, temporary situation in which Palestinians may or may not be adversely affected. Circumstances in the West Bank and Gaza bear the hallmarks of meticulous planning, rigorously implemented. This is a regime of well-coordinated, integrated policies, measures and mechanisms that subjugate and constrain the Palestinian population under occupation, while imposing dire consequences, many of them irreversible, on Palestinian lives, land and livelihoods.

I shall illustrate the point by outlining some of the conditions Palestinians and Palestine refugees face in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the West Bank, the picture is one of segregation and confinement. Palestinians are compelled to live in an encroaching maze of physical impediments, security restrictions and permit regimes. Their lives are confined by intrusive restraints that deny, to the overwhelming majority, freedom of movement, commerce and normal social interaction. The West Bank is fractured by a multiplicity of obstacles and demarcations, raising grave questions about the viability of this land as a national economic resource for a future Palestinian State.

From the latest count by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are some 592 physical obstacles impeding the movement of Palestinian people and goods. The most visible are the illegal separation barrier, presently stretching over 400 kilometers, and checkpoints and roadblocks, both fixed and mobile. Israeli settlements expropriate large tracts of Palestinian land, not only for settler housing, but also for settler farms, security areas, buffer zones, access roads and bypass roads which Palestinians are prohibited from using.

As freedom of movement is a prerequisite for sustainable livelihoods and for normal social, cultural and economic interaction, its denial generates violations of other equally fundamental human rights.

The demolition of Palestinian homes and the forced eviction of Palestinians have emerged as a prominent feature in the West Bank. In East Jerusalem, in particular, the practice has been pursued over recent years with grim regularity. Families are forcibly displaced, often in a manner designed to maximize their fear and humiliation. Evictions often take place at night or in the very early morning, with little warning, the victims still in their night clothes, with large deployments of police and security forces in attendance. As many of the affected families are already impoverished, their socio-economic vulnerability is aggravated

The West Bank appears on its surface to enjoy the trappings of normality, with recent reports suggesting the emergence of economic recovery. In reality, however, the Israeli occupation is incompatible with the realization of rights or justice for Palestinians, or with substantive economic growth. In effect, the differences between the West Bank and Gaza lie not in the substance of the occupation’s stultifying impact, but in form and method of its intrusions.

I turn now to the situation in Gaza.

The blockade of Gaza is in its 29th month following the Hamas seizure of de facto control in June 2007. Strictly speaking, however, a progressively tightening sanctions regime was applied against Gaza since February 2006, after Hamas won legislative elections (regarded by international observers as free and fair). Since then, over a million and half a million Palestinians, some 70 per cent of whom are refugees, have endured the pitiless effects of sealed borders.

Only a minimum of basic food commodities, health supplies and humanitarian goods is allowed into Gaza. The importation of petrol, diesel and ‘non-essential’ food items is forbidden and a total ban on exports is in place. No aspect of life is spared, because the prohibited items cover a broad range of what most would consider essential to normal life.

The blockade of Gaza is the bluntest and blindest of weapons, indiscriminately penalizing the hundreds of thousands, including children and the elderly, who have no affiliation with militant or political entities. As could be foreseen, malnutrition and deep poverty have steadily risen since Gaza’s borders were closed. Eighty per cent of the population lives under the poverty line and the latest poverty surveys conducted by UNRWA’s social services department show that the number of abject poor has tripled in recent months to reach 300,000 out of 1.1 million refugees. Gaza’s economy lies prostrate. With commerce and industry moribund, the principal economic activity is the trafficking of goods through a maze of underground tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt

Over 80 per cent the population is food aid dependent, 94 per cent of 120,000 private sector workers are unemployed. 60 per cent of Gazans have only irregular access to water, while another 10,000 entirely lack running water. In the absence of the necessary chemicals and equipment, over 80 million cubic liters of untreated and partially treated sewage flows into Gaza’s coastal waters each day.

The importation of construction materials is prohibited. This means that UNRWA and other aid agencies are prevented from implementing plans to help rebuild the 60,000 homes damaged during last winter’s conflict. The authorities are likewise unable to repair the schools, hospitals and public infrastructure devastated during the conflict. At the same time, Qassam rockets are still being launched from Gaza into Israel, although their frequency is drastically reduced. Israeli military incursions and strikes remain a regular occurrence.

Mention of armed conflict affords an opening to take a look at the Report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – referred to as the Goldstone Report after Judge Goldstone who led the mission. This report documents with authority the prima facie evidence of violations of international humanitarian law in the conduct of the war in Gaza nearly a year ago. The Report casts light on the impact of the war on civilians in Gaza and Israel, and the resulting questions of accountability under international law – areas which for too long have been overshadowed by the geo-politics of the Middle East.

The recommendations of the report cover a broad range of subject areas within the mission’s mandate. They call for an end to the blockade of Gaza, freedom of movement for Palestinians, the release of Palestinians in Israeli prisons in connection with the occupation and a halt to Israeli interference with the political processes in the occupied territory. The Security Council is requested to refer the report to the International Criminal Court if the parties fail to conduct their own investigations to international standards.

The Goldstone report is relevant to our discussions because it stands as a monument to the quest for justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an integral part of international law, human rights and fundamental freedoms were never intended to be merely inspirational, insubstantial ideals to be pursued only through exhortation and moral suasion. Their status as legal obligations binding on States and other combatants means that the ultimate test of their efficacy rests on the enforcement of legal consequences – penal implications for the perpetrators and recompense for those affected by the breach – once infringements are proven.

The Report marks a potentially significant step in this direction. It initiates a sequence of accountability which could eventually result in enforcing the rule of international law in the Israeli-Palestinian milieu. It demonstrates the universal and equal application of legal principles and rules to all – States and non-state entities alike, thus exemplifying the ascendancy of humanitarian principles and setting the stage for protecting individuals on par with considerations of State security and military policy.

It is significant that a large number of the report’s recommendations, 29 out of 43, are addressed to international entities – the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the States parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international community, more broadly speaking. Thus, it throws down the gauntlet of responsibility to the community of States, making it clear that while parties to the conflict bear primary responsibility, the importance of the issues at stake demand the involvement of all UN member States.

The Goldstone Report gifts the international community with a rare opportunity to rescue the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the eddies of politics and the absence of principle, and to anchor concerted international action on the rule of international law and the protection of civilians. In the frame of our topic, the Report offers an opportunity for the international community to give concrete meaning to rights and justice in the Israeli-Palestinian context. It is my hope that this opportunity will be grasped.

Distinguished colleagues:

We started out with a simple sketch of the ideal associations between rights, justice and the principles of the United Nations. When we set this against the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the emerging image is bleak and uncomfortable, a scenario of rights violated, opportunities foregone and justice yet to materialize. I would be remiss if I were to leave this image untouched by reference to additional considerations that exert a significant influence on the lives of Palestinians. We must weigh these into the balance if our appreciation of the Palestinian condition is to be complete.

One such element is the fortitude Palestinians have demonstrated in the course of their decades of travail. I refer to the indomitable Palestinian spirit of resistance, the unshakeable desire for survival that draws its identity and strength from a national consciousness – a sense of being – that is grounded in antiquity. In his poem Identity Card, Mahmoud Darwish, the venerated poet with an unrivalled ability to distil the Palestinian experience, declared:

I am an Arab

I have a name without a title

Patient in a country

Where people are enraged

My roots

Were entrenched before the birth of time

And before the opening of the eras

Before the pines, and the olive trees

And before the grass grew.

In these lines, suffering and anger are blended with a profound articulation of rootedness – a shared psyche of steadfast belonging that adversity shall never overcome. "We have been here a long, long time", the poet seems to say, "We will not go away".

From my observations and personal interactions, I can testify that the legendary Palestinian resilience is no myth. In the aftermath of last winter’s war, I toured Gaza, meeting Gazans and listening to their reactions. Everyone I met was awash with trauma and grief. There were expressions of rage against the attackers for the indiscriminate death and destruction they had wrought. There was also resentment against the international community for having allowed first the siege, and then the war, to go on for so long. However, the ordinary Gazans also evinced stoicism and strength in their determination to overcome the anguish of their harrowing experiences and their belief in the possibility of rebuilding their lives.

From UNRWA’s experience of delivering human development services for six decades, we can point to other qualities that have enabled Palestinians to embrace and take advantage of the opportunities offered by our programmes, notably in primary education, primary health care and microfinance. In spite of the immensity of the challenges affecting them, Palestinians’ desire for acquiring knowledge for self-improvement and self-reliance remains undiminished. The literacy rate for Palestinians in the occupied territory is 92.4 per cent compared to 67 per cent for the Middle-East region. Communicable diseases have been eradicated. Palestinians’ capacity for industry and enterprise has remained intact and the richness of their cultural heritage survives. All these qualities are an integral aspect of the Palestinian condition. More importantly, we must recognize the immense human potential that lies in the Palestinian and Palestine refugee community, and fashion strategies to allow it to flourish.

This is an opportune juncture to reflect briefly on the contribution of UNRWA and other United Nations agencies serving Palestinians in the occupied territory and across the Middle East. The realization of rights and justice is not the exclusive domain of UN agencies entrusted with political mandates. On the contrary, the non-political space occupied by humanitarian and human development agencies is a fertile arena for advancing a measure of human rights and social justice.

By striving – and often succeeding –  to make a positive difference in Palestinian lives, enhancing knowledge and skills, promoting self-reliance, offering avenues for more healthy lives, broadening life choices and creating opportunities for more decent standards of living, we directly furnish the means towards the realization of a number of human rights, notably those addressing education, health and standards of living.

There is more. Humanitarian and human development activities are potent vehicles for demonstrating, in tangible ways, the compassion and humanity which underpin human rights concepts. These are much more than mere sentiments as they have important operational implications. An approach grounded in compassion conveys to the Palestine refugees, as well as the communities and countries offering them refuge, that the United Nations – and therefore the international community – remains concerned about their plight and will continue to be engaged in the task of helping to attend to their needs. Moreover, our work in all areas is underpinned by the values which we as United Nations organizations embody: impartiality, tolerance for diversity, peaceful co-existence and respect for the human dignity of everyone. The humanitarian and human development work of the United Nations helps to cultivate these values, thus creating an enabling environment for stability.

Ideally, there should be mutually reinforcing complementarity between the roles of UN entities with political mandates and those in the humanitarian and human development field. Both are essential to ensure cohesive international action and maximum impact for Palestinians in whose name the interventions are made. The reality in the occupied territory is that the absence of progress on the political plane hampers the ability of UN agencies to effect sustainable change in living conditions. If the optimal relationship among the political, humanitarian and developmental is to be achieved, much more must be done by organizations functioning in the political sphere.

There are several other areas where the efforts of States and political entitles of the United Nations could be significantly strengthened. From a refugee perspective, I refer to the issues of consistency in human rights issues, the approach to conflict resolution and the place of the refugee issue in the negotiation process.

The absence of a principled, consistent approach to human rights is one I have already mentioned in connection with the blockade of Gaza and the Goldstone report. From the UN Charter and the instruments to which it has given rise, the promotion of human rights, including the aspiration to combat poverty and the right of everyone to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, is a defining paradigm of the international community. The first of the Millennium Development Goals is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, with the specific goal of halving, by the year 2015, the number of people living on less than a dollar a day. In the Millennium Declaration, heads of State and Government solemnly pledged to "….spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty…"

These universal commitments to promote the human rights of all, and to eradicate poverty, cannot be reconciled with the systematic human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians.

Dispute resolution is another area in which a re-evaluation of current assumptions and approaches is called for. That the UN Charter ascribes great importance to the peaceful resolution of disputes is clear in the statement of its purposes and in provisions relating to collective security, shared restraint in the use of armed force and joint action to address threats to international peace and security.

These stipulations, and the Charter’s clear repugnance to war, underscore the need for the negotiation process to be given the highest priority, particularly considering the regional and international security implications of every outbreak of violence in the occupied territory. The optimum dispute resolution approach should be one that leaves no stone unturned and is resolute in the drive to achieve peace by peaceful means. It should be an approach that takes an inclusive stance on the question of which parties must be at the table, taking as its yardstick the principal constituencies with the highest stakes in the conflict. It should also be an approach that favours a comprehensive attitude to formulating the agenda for negotiation.

The argument for a more inclusive approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making is supported by past international practice. We would do well to reflect on the lessons of examples where protracted armed conflicts have been successfully resolved by international mediation. In such examples, the international community acted as one in involving all protagonists in the negotiation process. There was a clear understanding that the disputes in question were essentially political in nature, and thus impossible to resolve through force of arms, and of the benefits of a negotiated settlement outweighing the human, material and political costs of allowing the conflict to continue unchecked.

The successful examples have also involved dispassionate and balanced assessments of the parties’ conduct, to determine the extent to which they could be entrusted with the responsibilities of negotiating partners, including their ability to exercise good faith during the negotiation process and to adhere to the outcomes. These are some of the ingredients contributing to effective conflict resolution. Success has been elusive in instances where the process is selectively exclusive, expressly ostracizing, on political or other grounds, parties with a significant constituency.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process to date has been driven by a selective approach, patently at odds with the lessons of successful negotiations elsewhere. The process and its mediators have also suffered from a permanent crisis of credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian and Arab polity, one that stems from a variety of complex causes, including the international community’s failure to take principled stances on the upholding of Palestinian rights.

The application of lessons from successful negotiations in other contexts would be beneficial to the search for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a case to be made that the elements justifying an inclusive, all-embracing negotiation approach are present in the Israeli-Palestinian context, or could be established relatively quickly. Given the long history of efforts at a solution, both sides have well-resourced negotiation personnel and structures. Even in times of open conflict, Israel and the major Palestinian parties have maintained channels of communication, and been known to hammer out and respect informal ceasefires and other serious arrangements, many of which have held for significant periods of time.

An international community that is properly attuned to its obligation to ensure a negotiated settlement to this conflict would ensure that these positive elements are cultivated. It would as well be more sensitive to – and therefore make good faith efforts to address – the fact that the Hamas-Fatah divide poses an existential risk to the prospects for a negotiated peace, and, in parallel, also potentially threatens the feasibility of a Palestinian State.

I shall mention a further aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian discourse in which there is room to reconsider the current approach. I refer to the question of Palestine refugees, an issue on which UNRWA, by virtue of its mandate responsibilities, has a duty to pronounce.

The refugee issue, alongside questions of Jerusalem, borders and water resources, has been designated a "final status" issue to be excluded from the negotiation process until an undefined later stage. This approach has served only to shunt the refugee question to one side, holding it in abeyance while the situation on the ground evolves in directions which, with the passage of time, thrust a just solution further and further beyond reach.

The rationales for reversing the prevailing approach revolve around the size of the refugee constituency and the linkages between the refugee issue and other substantive issues in dispute. If taken into account, these considerations would warrant the initiation of an open dialogue on the refugee issue, including, in particular, with refugees themselves

The Palestine refugee community registered with UNRWA is now 4.7 million strong. This figure does not account for Palestinians in the diaspora, said to number between four to six million. Given this numerical strength, which continues to grow each year, the refugee constituency is capable of bringing substantial influence to bear on the issues that touch its interests.

This suggests that an early process of ascertaining refugee interests and concerns would be prudent. Such a process should be arranged in accordance with established protection standards. Its components would include genuine representation arrangements for the refugee voice to be heard in the substantive negotiation process, and protocols to ensure that the informed choices refugees freely make are channeled into the process and respected. While early involvement of refugees would pose substantial challenges, not the least of which would be logistical, it would also pay handsome dividends in generating greater confidence in the negotiation process and the sustainability of its outcomes.

Distinguished colleagues:

The Israeli-Palestinian question is proving to be one of the greatest tests of the modern age. From its inception, it has borne the hallmarks of a conflict with classic international dimensions. Its history and genesis is replete with the involvement of leading members of the Security Council. It is centered in a region of strategic, geopolitical and religious sensitivity, one in which the industrialized world, and indeed the entire world, holds an economic stake, and, therefore, can ill-afford the cycles of conflict and upheaval with which it is rife. For sixty-one years, this conflict has resisted resolution. As it persists, waxing and waning from periods of intense violence to intervals of calm, Palestinians and Palestine refugees continue their anguished wait for an ever-elusive solution.

I again turn to Secretary-General Hammarskjöld for concluding thoughts. The scene was the Security Council, meeting in 1956 in the throes of the Suez crisis. In circumstances which suggested that States were giving short shrift to their obligations under the UN Charter, the Secretary-General declared:

"The principles of the Charter are, by far, greater than the Organization in which they are embodied, and the aims which they are to safeguard are holier than the policies of any single nation or people".

This pronouncement encapsulates the spirit of the United Nations. All who desire an end to the misery of Palestinians would do well to heed and apply its message. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the issues it raises touch the founding concepts of the United Nations Charter. The conflict and its questions of rights and justice cannot be regarded simply as local or regional, because they transcend the interests of the parties and partake of an intrinsically international character. Therefore, it is by adherence to and enforcement of the highest of ideals – ideals that are more sacrosanct than the interests or policies of any single nation – that the international community, acting in concert in a truly multilateral spirit, must address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To date, our approach has deviated from the principled posture conveyed in the words of the second Secretary-General. Rather than emphasizing the overarching international interest, precedence has been given to particular State concerns. Instead of investing the issues with the quality of international legal obligations, State security and foreign policy paradigms of particular States have been the preferred frames of reference. We have, in a word, spurned the high calling that our professed allegiance to the United Nations Charter demands of us.

As a result, we have turned our backs on Palestinians and Palestine refugees. With every passing year, our deficit of compassion grows. Though we hear their cry and see their suffering, our response falls short of the promises we have made – promises of rights, freedoms, human dignity and justice which we pursue with vigor for others, and yet cannot seem to realize for the people of Palestine.

The constraints of the present must not, however, obscure our view of the possibilities that remain within our grasp, if only we would rally round the strength of our ideals and convictions. In spite of all Palestinians endure, there remains a robust impulse for peace and a burning desire to lead normal, secure lives, free from war and want. Our focus must be fixed on realizing that potential, building on the strength of the Palestinian spirit and on rising to the challenge of securing for Palestinians the rights and justice so long denied them.

Distinguished guests:

I conclude with a simple request – that each of us does whatever we can to render dignity to Palestinians, to bring into being a Palestinian State and to realize for Palestine refugees a just and lasting solution. I do not believe this is too much to ask.