Thank you. Thank you so very much. This gives a whole new meaning to what Woody Allen must have had in mind about the importance of showing up. Let me see what I can do with the ten percent.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Ziad, very much for this welcome. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed a great privilege for me to appear before this distinguished forum for the second time, the first being three years ago exactly. It is a privilege for my wife, Bashaer, and two-thirds of our children, as Ziad mentioned, Khaled and Abdallah, who are in the audience with us tonight. The no-show, Iman, has the problem of thinking that she knows what she is doing, not only most of the time, but all the time. I don’t know where she got that from.

But I want to start by again reiterating my thanks to you, Ziad and the American Task Force on Palestine, for the work that you do. It is indeed a privilege to take part in this important function, and to support the excellent work that you do in providing a bridge for us Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people to this very important nation, and to this capital in particular.

I know a lot of people have spent too much time trying to pigeon-hole the ATFP, and some having problems with it being perceived or seen as a bit right-of-center. Some actually may find it rather frank for me to call it "just a bit right-of-center" when they think it is a lot right-of-center. To me, what is important in this business is not whether you are right-of-center or left-of-center. What is important is in this business for you to be right at least fifty percent of the time, and by that standard ATFP makes it handily. This is a bar that the ATFP as a matter of fact clears with a substantial margin to spare, full of professionalism and integrity, providing the kind of effective bridging operation that we very much need. Particularly, I feel at this time, when our relations with the United States are going through a period of strain, if I may be frank, in characterizing them against the backdrop of the recent activity involving the United Nations, as you know.

Maybe there are other issues involved, but that situation is what it is, and I recall when I last appeared before you, at least for those of you who are here tonight and were also here then, I spoke of the difficulties that we were encountering with the political process then having gone on for nearly fifteen years. At the time I spoke here three years ago, without too many signs of productivity or promise of success anytime soon, with elements of success not having been there for most of that period. Actually, there is disappointment and indeed disillusionment with the capacity of the political process to produce that which we—Palestinians before anyone else, but with us, the rest of the world—would want to see. That is, an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, and for us Palestinians to, at long last, have the opportunity to live as free people with dignity and a country of our own.

There is indeed frustration with the process that has gone on since then, since I appeared before you three years ago, without seemingly promising an improvement in its capacity to deliver, relative to that key deliverable of the political process, an end to the Israeli occupation, in a way that brings to fruition that two-state solution concept which has become a matter of international consensus, I believe beginning with that famous policy statement made by the then-president of the United States, George W. Bush, in June 2002. Here we are, still trying to get to that point, but unfortunately without really much promise of success.

I believe there are a number of issues that we need to take into account when it comes to trying to come up with a proper diagnosis as to what it is that needs to be done. But it certainly is something that we should not ignore. We should try to really take into account those elements that for long have not gotten the attention that we, I believe, cannot afford to continue to ignore. Elements of success, factors that must underpin any political process for that process to be adequately credible, effective, and capable of producing that which we all want to see produced. As you all know, recently the Quartet has tried to come up with a position reflecting the statement that it issued in September, last month, around the time of the General Assembly. This time around, the purpose of that statement was to encourage the parties to resume the political process, and since then the Quartet at the level of the envoys had meetings in Brussels. And what they decided to do was to move in the direction of trying to get the parties to resume the political process.

Let me be frank with you. My own assessment is that conditions are not ripe at this juncture for a resumption—a meaningful resumption—of talks. While I’m here to also emphasize to you beyond any doubt, our conviction and our continued commitment to a negotiated settlement to this conflict, my own sense is that conditions are not ripe for resumption of talks at this stage in a way that could promise a solution. That does not mean this should be given up on. I do question, however, continuing to really hold that as the key objective of policy at this juncture. All it is likely to produce under current conditions is defensiveness on the part of the parties, leading to a position again of trying to establish that it is the other party's fault.

And do not be misled by statements to the effect that, for example from Israel you hear the Prime Minister of Israel time and again saying, "we are ready to negotiate, all we need to do is sit down and talk." It is not for lack of talks that this process has not produced results. It is precisely because those talks were attempted so many times before, but not on the basis of terms of reference that are really consistent with what is required to bring this conflict to an end in a manner that is remotely related to what international law requires. It is not enough to say we are ready to negotiate. It is not. I think beyond saying that, what we Palestinians would like to really have some assurance about is what it is exactly that the Prime Minister of the Government of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, has in mind when he says a "state," when it comes to Palestinian statehood. 

We’re troubled, past the point of saying that we are ready to negotiate and all we need to do is sit down to talk about this.  It troubles me that the language that is used continues to be one of, "well, we do not wish to continue to have control over Palestinian lives and we Palestinians should really manage their own affairs." Language like this probably was a good source of inspiration around the time when the political process began, in the mid-90’s or even before. But now is the time that I believe much greater specificity should be expected, or rather required, in order for there to be that assurance. I think it’s about time for us to really have some certainty as to what it is to expect out of the process when it comes to Palestinian statehood.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: we Palestinians would consider a fair outcome a State of Palestine on twenty-two percent of British Mandate Palestine, precisely on the territories occupied in 1967, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We are troubled, therefore, that statements to the effect that ‘we are ready to negotiate’ are accompanied by actions on the ground that are inconsistent with this very objective. Consider, for example, the recent decision that was okayed by Prime Minister Netanyahu recently on this new development south of East Jerusalem, involving building 2,610 new units, in a way that cuts off East Jerusalem completely, pretty much, from the area of Bethlehem. There is not going to be a solution that is acceptable to Palestinians that does not include East Jerusalem as a permanent capital of the State of Palestine, to be established on the full territory occupied in 1967. 

That’s a problem that we have with characterizations and statements to the effect that, "we are ready, all we need to do is sit down and talk." We definitely do not underestimate the importance of having dialogue, and I think we really should find a way of having meaningful dialogue that would lead to a settlement. We know that this cannot end unless we sit down and talk about all of those permanent status issues that were agreed to be set aside for a negotiated settlement by the parties at the time of the Oslo Accords. We remain committed to this process, but my own assessment is that conditions are not ripe for resumption of talks at this time in a way that is capable of producing the outcome that we all want to see. I do not know for how much longer this process is going to go on in the way that the Quartet has prescribed recently, both in terms of the statement issued in Europe recently, but also in terms of the expectations it laid out at the level of the envoys at its meeting in Brussels recently. But it’s really almost like trying to push an elephant through a needle hole. There are two problems with this: the elephant is too big, and the needle hole is too small. It’s just not going to happen, to be honest with you. I just don’t see it.

What do we do under these conditions? I think it’s important for there to be a recognition that while the current situation is bad, the situation can become worse. There are a number of things that need to happen. And there are issues that require attention, immediate attention, in order for us to actually provide some maintenance. These are issues that do not often get the attention they deserve. For example, I believe we have made a good deal of progress, as Ziad said, in terms of restoring law and order, and establishing an environment of nonviolence. This is very important to maintain. We’re deeply committed to that. But you cannot sustain that on the strength of physical force alone. In order for that improvement in security to be sustainable, I think two things need to happen. One on the domestic front, and the other in terms of our own relationship with Israel and the way in which Israel, the occupying power, deals with us. And so far as we are concerned, for our own part, I think we should do more in order to create conditions where citizens feel there is a sense of justice that can be attained, that the instruments of the rule of law sector are all well developed, that the court system works well, and that justice at long last will be served if in fact somebody goes through the system. We have made a good deal of progress there, but I think it’s important to build on that. That’s very important.

But the second element relates to what the government of Israel does or does not do. And in particular, I believe it is very important, especially, for the Israeli army not to deal with Palestinian nonviolent demonstrations in a violent manner. There is no justification for that. There is no reason whatsoever why the government of Israel would deal with nonviolent demonstrators in the streets of Tel Aviv one way, and deal with them on the streets of East Jerusalem in another. This heavy-handed approach in dealing with nonviolent demonstrations is extremely dangerous, and actually puts at serious risk the progress that has been made on the security front which has to be preserved, maintained, and indeed bolstered.

Another issue that requires immediate attention is a much better job by the government of Israel in order to reign in settler extremism and violence, and, yes indeed, outright terrorism. There is no justification for there not to be much a greater effort made by the Israeli army; after all, they are in charge of security. They are the occupying power. Much more needs to be done in order to prevent these acts of violence against Palestinians, their lives, their livelihoods, their property. Way too often, these events continue to happen, and with a great deal of escalation. And, as a matter of fact, there is especially escalation around this time of year during the olive-harvesting season. No doubt, you follow the news there. There have been so many incidents involving that, in addition to attacks on Palestinian villages and homes, and torching of places of worship. These are acts of violence, extremism, and terrorism that should be reigned in. And a much better job needs to be actually done by the Israeli government in order to hold those who are involved in these actions, terrible actions, accountable. We see very little of that.

These are very important issues that require immediate attention, in the immediate future. It should not continue to be overlooked while everyone is looking at what needs to be done in order to restart talks. Beyond that, and while an effort should continue to be made in order to find a way in which a meeting of the minds can be established around the contours of a possible settlement between the two sides. I think, beyond these immediate issues, issues of immediate interest that I talked about, it is very important to go back to issues that we have repeatedly raised in discussions with the Israelis, and continue to raise related to conditions on the ground.

There is no justification for the Israeli Army to continue to raid cities in the West Bank, the area that is classified as Area A under the Oslo Accords. There is no justification for that. You know, the agreement itself provided for those areas classified as “A” to be the purview of the Palestinian Authority in terms of security matters. This continued to be the case until the spring of 2002, when the Israeli Army broke that barrier. That continued throughout the years of the intifada. As I told you, and as you all know, there has been massive improvement in security conditions on the ground in ways that the Israeli government, both the political and security establishment level, recognize. They all accept that there has been an enormous improvement to security conditions. And under these conditions I ask: why is it that the Israeli Army continues to maintain the right to send its troops into our cities? This is an area that is under Palestinian Authority control. We have established a strong presence there. We have demonstrated that we can actually improve security conditions. Those raids must stop. I mean, apart from the obvious damage they do, they also undermine the credibility of the Palestinian Authority. And with them continuing, the effort the Palestinian Authority has been making toward getting ready for statehood, which has achieved this level of success over the past couple of years, that effort more and more is being seen as an exercise in adapting to the reality of a prolonged occupation—precisely the kind of thing that we should want to avoid.

Another area where we would really like to see the Israeli government move in order to improve conditions, but to also begin to politically validate the state-building effort and the state-building program, is to allow the Palestinian Authority to begin to have a formal, uniformed Palestinian security presence in areas outside of Area A, in all Palestinian population centers, in those areas where the state of Palestine is going to emerge. It is not until things like this begin to happen, that people, both Palestinian and Israeli, will really begin to have a sense of the possibility about the emergence of that state of Palestine. It is very important. Otherwise it will continue to be an exercise in the abstract.

People have talked so long about Palestinian statehood, about a two-state solution, to the point where they have become desensitized. There is a majority on both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, that believes in a two-state solution. There’s not a majority on either side that believes it can happen. This is exactly the divide or the gap that we really need to fill. We thought by embarking on the program of getting ready for statehood that we’d be making progress and achieving that transformation. And I think at least to some extent on our side, on the Palestinian side, there has been a major transformation. And I believe to some extent also on the Israeli side. Many Israelis follow what we have been trying to do, getting ready for statehood, and building our state of Palestine that is based on a foundation and principles that represent universally shared values, values similar to the great values on which this great nation stands. And relative to that objective of building a Palestinian state, we really set out to actually do all that was necessary. We felt the need in all fields of governance, and also in infrastructure, to get ready for statehood. That attracted a good deal of interest on the Israeli side.

Has it attained the kind of transformation that we think is necessary in order for there to be an alignment between what people think the solution should be, and the extent to which they believe it can happen?  It seems like we’re not there yet. As a matter of fact, this is evidenced by the fact that actions on the ground continue to take place on the Israeli side in a manner that is inconsistent with the shared objective of having a State of Palestine emerge on territory occupied in 1967. As a matter of fact, you know, the story is very clear and the trade-offs are obvious. Let me quote you something which former Prime Minister Olmert said when he was still in office. He said that, “the day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.” That’s what he said when he was still in office at the time.

Let me make it absolutely clear: all we Palestinians are looking for is an independent, sovereign, fully viable State of Palestine on twenty-two percent of British Mandate Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital. That’s what we want. But if that does not happen, who is going to prevent this struggle from becoming a struggle for equal voting rights? What we want is freedom from Israel, not the right to vote in Israel. That’s our preference. That’s what we really want. What we really need is all the help that we can get in order to get where we’re going. And here I have a lot to be thankful to the world for, including of course, to the United States for the help they provided us to implement our statehood program, which we launched in late August 2009, and which came to fruition in August or early September of this year.

Some of you, I don’t know if you all, watched the movie around dinner time, but it was a promotion of the project. It showed, or tried to capture a sense of, the progress that was attained, particularly in infrastructure; schools that were built, hospitals, water wells, roads that were paved. It talked about 200 schools, thousands of kilometers of roads constructed or paved, three new hospitals and a large number of healthcare facilities built. Massive improvements in ways that were felt throughout the West Bank, but also some of the projects, if you paid attention, were carried out in Gaza. By the way, there is a great deal more that needs to take place, in bringing the infrastructure to the quality that’s required—especially in Gaza. There is a great deal that needs to happen in order to actually begin reconstruction of Gaza. Now that the prisoner exchange deal has been agreed and consummated, and is on its way to being completed, I think conditions are there for definitely, given all that was said about the reasons for the siege to continue to be imposed on Gaza, for it to be lifted, and for the reconstruction of Gaza to actually begin in earnest. There is a great deal that needs to be done, particularly in education and health in the Gaza strip.

But as I just mentioned to you, a great deal was done in terms of improving the quality of infrastructure itself, as well as social services. These improvements actually meant something real to people throughout the country, if you actually look at some measures, for example poverty, which is just one measure. A great deal of progress happened on the strength of implementing a very large number of infrastructure projects. As a matter of fact, the most recent survey taken that covers the end of 2010, that was recently completed by the World Bank in collaboration with a very good institution on our side, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, shows that, as a matter of fact, the poverty ratio has dropped substantially over the period of 2007-2009, actually by 9 percentage points. It was enough to more than compensate for the rise in the poverty ratio – and this covers both Gaza and the West Bank ¬– over the period of 2006-2007. So much so that it brought the poverty ratio down to below where it was in 2004. Substantially below what it was in 2004, in the West Bank. In Gaza, of course, it was a different story. In Gaza, the ratio today stands at about 34 percent, nearly double what it is in the West Bank. That reflects the reality of the siege in on the one hand, but also the reality of separation on the other. But that improvement, or that reduction of poverty ratio, proves the extent to which this effort has been successful, if you take just that one measure.

Of course, it took a lot of effort on our side. But we would not have been able to do it without the generous help and support of our friends in the international community, including the United States. And while on the issue of money, let me tell you that as a matter of fact, we have received from the United States, over the period since the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, a total of $3.465 billion, which we used for a variety of things; physical infrastructure, social services, and what have you. This is in addition, of course, to budget support. Nearly 70 percent of that amount was received over the period between 2007 and 2010/2011. Nearly $900 million of that amount was in the form of cash assistance that was transferred directly to us, to our Treasury, as a sign of confidence by the United States, the Congress of the United States, in our capacity to manage resources efficiently and in a corruption-free manner. This is a vital element of the state-building program and getting ready for statehood that we actually accomplished, and we have. Similarly, we have received large sums of money from the European Union, as well as from Arab donors. All of that helped us enormously.

Over the past year, though, actually more than a year now, a year plus a few months, we have been unable to meet our obligations in a timely fashion. And that was not because we have not been implementing the budget in line with our own projections or law, and it’s not because our deficit has been expanding. To the contrary, as a matter of fact, I believe we are the only country in the region in this year of the Arab Spring that continued to pursue deficit reduction in the course of 2011. And, as a matter of fact, on current projections, we’re projecting a further decline in our deficit in the course of 2012.

Nevertheless, given the difficulty that we have experienced in the past year in getting the assistance we needed to implement our budget in a timely fashion, we found it necessary to take measures that are capable of producing a much more significant reduction in our deficit in the course of 2012, relative to the original baseline. I believe in the strength of those measures. I also believe that this effort can—and I hope will—benefit from better cooperation with the Israeli government on issues related to the transfer of money under the existing agreement with them on this issue in a way that enhances the official system.

I believe we can reduce our deficit in the course of 2012 to a substantially lower level, to a level that can be spontaneously funded without having the kind of financial crisis that we have been going through over the past few months. You know, we got to a point where we were unable to meet our wage obligations back in May and June, and that was very difficult. We certainly believe this effort of ours had attracted a great deal of attention and positive interest internationally; nevertheless, we found ourselves unable to meet the most basic of obligations. We just can’t continue to do business this way, thinking money was just going to come, when for more than a year now it has not been coming, either in the amounts pledged or in the timeliness that was required.

Against this background, once again, we decided to actually step up the effort that I believe we will achieve before the next fiscal year, which begins in January in Palestine. And if we’re successful, we want to be able to reduce our deficit to a level that can be spontaneously financed, but beyond that, I believe that by year’s end, we will at long last be able to graduate for the first time from the need for exceptional financial support—meaning, the kind of aid that we have needed a bit too much from the inception of the Palestinian Authority to help us with our recurring expenditures. And that will be an enormous achievement, one that would underscore even more the extent to which the Palestinian Authority has matured in transforming it into the structure of a well-functioning State of Palestine. That’s a commitment that we are making. And I hope that we’re going to be able to do that, and it is something that matters to us a great deal.

But again, we are grateful for all of the assistance that we have received, but we are really trying to take advantage of all of it that is available, and we have been trying to do so in a manner that will witness a progressive reduction in our aid dependency. In fact, over the period 2008-2010, and in 2011, relative to GDP, we have improved our self-reliance on that indicator, to the extent to which we are able to cover our current expenditure by 60%. And that’s a major achievement, something we are definitely looking forward to building on in the period ahead.

Quickly then, these are the achievements—whether we are talking about schools, whether we are talking about hospitals, electricity, water—and in the period ahead we need to do more of these things, given all they have done by way of bringing about a better livelihood for our people. You can look at indicators for as long as you want without getting a real appreciation for what they mean to real people. You must talk to people who are touched and who benefit from these projects firsthand, look at the excitement on the faces of children when they see a little road to their school paved for the first time, for example in the villages of Kardala and Bardala in the Jordan Valley. I remember when we did this, with them having expected it to be done for such a long period of time. Further up north, in a little community known as Hdeida in the Jordan Valley, there is someone by the name of Abu Saker. His highest ambition in life, he used to say, was to have a water faucet. We could not provide running water to Abu Saker because that’s a community that lies in the area that is classified as ‘Area C’ under the Oslo Accord, an area where we cannot pursue development. Nevertheless, we were able to actually bring in water tanks to that community. It’s not exactly what he wanted, but we are working on getting a water faucet to Abu Saker soon, and with some luck and determination I hope we are going to be able to do that. These are projects and initiatives that really meant a lot to people, particularly since they were designed to respond to needs of people as they saw them and their priorities as they saw them, and as communicated to us by their representatives.

And speaking of representatives, I believe we really need to make progress on the issue of elections, particularly at the local level. I hope we’re going to be able to do that soon. Our development process has been quite democratic, but I really believe we need to do more, and quickly, on the issue of elections.

Again, ladies and gentlemen, we have been trying to do the very best we can. I started my remarks by saying something about the importance of showing up, on the strength of what we have been able to do with your help and support. I think we have managed to show up and get to the point where we are able to say, "here we are, we have delivered, we are ready for statehood, is the world ready for us?" I think we are going to get there. There is just no question in my mind that it is only a matter of time before this Israeli occupation ends. It will end, not only because it is oppressive to us, but also because it is corrosive to the Israelis. This is not sustainable, it cannot but end. I think, along the way to getting there, this will continue to require and demand the resources and energy on the part of all of you, here and outside of this hall.

We continue to look to you, the Arab-American community—and if I may be more specific tonight, the Palestinian-American community—to continue to serve as the important bridge to this great nation that is the United States. We definitely look to you to continue to contribute to the brilliance and greatness of this nation. And as you do, no doubt, you will be projecting the true face of Palestine.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so very much. Thank you.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017