Tomorrow, the Palestinian flag will be raised for the first time at the United Nations headquarters in New York and at other U.N. offices around the world. The sense of pride among the Palestinian people was overwhelming the day the world voted in favor of this landmark initiative. I am certain that the day our flag rises among the flags of the community of nations will also be a most emotional and proud day.
The General Assembly’s vote confirmed again that we, the people of Palestine, are not alone in our quest for freedom, fulfillment of our rights and an end to decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. On September 30, we will raise our flag in a peaceful gesture that will remind all that justice and independence is ultimately possible. To get to this destination, we need the support of our friends around the world and the leadership of the U.N.
As the U.N. this year marks its 70th anniversary, its longest-standing, unresolved issue is the question of Palestine. For more than 68 years, my people have been denied their rights and denied freedom. In 1948, we were cast out of our places of birth and those of our ancestors; our homes and heritage were destroyed; we were expelled or fled into exile to what were to be temporary camps until the conflict and question of Palestinian statehood were resolved.
As the U.N. this year marks its 70th anniversary, its longest-standing, unresolved issue is the question of Palestine.
Today, Palestinians remain in exile, with over five million refugees denied their right to return. An illegal, oppressive Israeli occupation denies basic human rights, including the right of people to self-determination and freedom — a foundational principle of the U.N. But the Palestinian people have not given up hope and have not given up their rightful and just quest to live in independence and peace in our homeland.
Hope is the power that helps my people endure and overcome the horrors we have too often faced. Many have compared living in Palestine to apartheid. But our situation is even more dire because Israel, the occupying power, is not only executing a system of segregation and subjugation; it persists with the blatant ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their land. While the Israeli government pays lip service to the two-state solution internationally, domestically it employs policies aimed at destroying what’s left of Palestine. Israel demolishes our homes, swallows up our land and works at breaking the spirit and will of our people.
In Bethlehem, Israeli checkpoints and an illegal annexation wall cages in people, depriving them of their rights, livelihoods and access to their land. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue to suffer the wounds of last year’s barbaric war as Israel’s cruel blockade imprisons the entire population and renders the Strip uninhabitable. In Occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli forces and leaders aid extremist attacks and religious zealots’ attempts to assert control over Al Aqsa Mosque and ignite a religious conflict. Palestine refugees across the region are suffering repeated displacement, dispossession and trauma, denied the ability to return home.
Countless events every single day illustrate the ways in which Israel’s illegal occupation devastates Palestine. But few recent events resonated with the world, like the arson attack on the Dawabsheh family home. A group of Israeli terrorist settlers smashed the windows of the Dawabsheh home and threw Molotov cocktails inside, immediately burning to death an 18-month-old baby, Ali. Both of Ali’s parents have since perished due to third degree burns. More than a month later, their now-orphaned 4-year-old son remains in the hospital. The Israeli government has attempted to disassociate itself from the attack, but the truth is that its pervasive and systematic colonization of Palestine with settlements, messages of intolerance, flouting of international law and culture of impunity not only facilitated that attack but continue to encourage others like it.
Israel’s pursuit of reckless policies obstructs any international progress for the two-state solution. I recall the high hopes I felt in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed and a five-year deadline set to achieve an end to the occupation and peace and security between the two states, the State of Palestine and Israel. That was 22 years ago. Since then, Israel has failed to negotiate in good faith while entrenching its illegal occupation. Israel is not dedicated to the international community’s values of freedom, justice and peace — let alone the two-state solution and the longstanding parameters underpinning it. It has trampled the Oslo Accords and with it the peace process.
As world leaders gather in New York to commemorate the U.N.’s 70th anniversary, these same leaders must also reflect on the U.N.’s failures. Palestine has languished on the U.N. agenda since the organization’s inception. This persistent neglect has cost too many lives, dampened hope, undermined international law and stained the reputation of the U.N. World leaders must find the political will to uphold the rule of law, respect human rights and make good on the commitments they collectively made to the Palestinian people over decades. The U.N. must give my people more than hope.
World leaders must find the political will to uphold the rule of law, respect human rights and make good on the commitments they collectively made to the Palestinian people over decades.
A peaceful, fair and just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict exists. But the peace process must be multilateral. The same pattern of negotiations imposed for years will not work because Israel is the occupying power. Israel controls our territory, natural resources, economic affairs and our daily lives, violating every fundamental human right of the Palestinian people. We cannot directly negotiate with a power that has this level of control and exhibits such contempt for the rights and existence of our people.
That is why a collective, multilateral peace process is necessary. Such processes have made significant progress in difficult negotiations for the Balkans, Libya and Iran. They should be attempted to decisively end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after all these years of futile attempts to achieve peace.
On the vote to raise our flag at the U.N., the international community demonstrated its solidarity with the Palestinian people. Now it must act with urgency to seize the momentum from this symbolic gesture and provide a clear plan to end the illegal Israeli occupation, uphold human rights and achieve justice. It is time to finally achieve the independence of the State of Palestine, peacefully resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict — as was promised long ago.
Mahmoud Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority and the State of Palestine’s unofficial president.
First published at The Huffington Post.
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