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Middle East Conflict: Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy

Publié le September 22, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic.

Opening of the 66th United Nations General Assembly.
New York, September 21, 2011
In a speech during the opening of the annual UN General Assembly, President Sarkozy addressed a broad range of international issues (photo elysee.fr / C. Alix)
Middle East conflict

When we met here in this very place last September, who among us could have imagined that in barely one year, the world, already convulsed by an unprecedented economic crisis, would have undergone such changes?

In a few months, the Arab Spring has given rise to extraordinary hope.
Crushed by oppression for all too long, Arab populations were able to lift their heads and demanded the right to be free at last. With only their bare hands, they confronted violence and brutality.

To those who proclaimed that the Arab-Muslim world is by nature hostile to democracy and human rights, the young Arabs offered the most eloquent denial.

Ladies and gentlemen, my dear colleagues, we do not have the right to disappoint the hopes of the Arab people.
We do not have the right to shatter their dreams.

For if their hopes were dashed, it would vindicate the fanatics who have not renounced their desire to set Islam against the West by stirring up hatred and violence everywhere.

It was a call for justice that shook the world, and the world can’t respond to this call by perpetuating an injustice.

This miraculous spring of the Arab peoples imposes upon us a moral and political obligation to finally resolve the Middle East conflict.
We can’t wait any longer! The method used up to now – and I am choosing my words carefully – has failed. We must therefore change our method!

We must stop believing that a single country, even the largest, or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem. Too many crucial players are being sidelined for our efforts to succeed.

I would like to say that nobody imagines the peace process can happen without Europe; nobody imagines it can happen without all the permanent members of the Security Council; nobody imagines it can happen without the involvement of the Arab states that have already chosen peace. A collective approach has become essential to creating trust and providing guarantees to each of the parties.

True, peace will be built by the Israelis and the Palestinians. No one else. And no one can expect to impose it on them. But we must help them.

The method is no longer working.

Together let us acknowledge that setting preconditions for negotiation meant dooming ourselves to failure. Preconditions are the opposite of negotiation. If we wish to enter into negotiations, which is the only way forward for peace, there must be no preconditions. Let us change our methods!

All the elements of a solution are known: from the Madrid Conference of 1991 to President Obama’s speech of 19 May, the road map, the Arab peace initiative and the parameters agreed on by the European Union. So let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and begin negotiations, on these bases. Let us adopt a specific and ambitious timetable.

In 60 years, we have not moved forward by even one centimetre. Doesn’t that oblige us to change our methods and timetables?

- One month to resume discussions;

- Six months to reach an agreement on borders and security;

- One year to reach a definitive agreement.

And France proposes to host a donors’ conference this autumn so that the Palestinians can complete the construction of their future state.

France wants to say that you must not seek a perfect solution from the outset, because there are no perfect solutions! Let us choose the path of compromise, which is neither a renunciation nor a disavowal, but which will allow us to move forward, step by step.

For 60 years now, the Palestinians have been waiting for their state. Hasn’t the time come to give them hope? For 60 years now, Israel has suffered from being unable to live in peace. For 60 years now, there’s been the still-nagging question of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis.

We can’t wait any longer to take the path of peace!

Let’s put ourselves in the place of the Palestinians. Don’t they have the right to demand their own state? Of course they do! And who cannot see that a democratic, viable and peaceful Palestinian state would be, for Israel, the best guarantee of her security.

Let’s put ourselves in the place of the Israelis. After 60 years of war and terrorist attacks, don’t they have the right to demand guarantees for this long-awaited peace? Of course they do! And I emphatically say to you that if anyone, anywhere in the world, were to threaten the existence of Israel, France would immediately and wholeheartedly stand by Israel’s side. Threats against a UN member state are unacceptable and will not be accepted.

Today we are facing a very difficult choice. We’re all well aware – and let’s put an end to the hypocrisy and one-off diplomacy – we’re all well aware that Palestine can’t obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state in the immediate future. The first reason for this is the lack of trust between the main parties. But let’s be honest with ourselves: who doubts that a veto at the Security Council will engender a cycle of violence in the Middle East? Who doubts that?

Yet must we rule out an intermediate stage? Why not consider offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state? That would be an important step forward; it would mean bringing an end to 60 years of inaction, a state of inaction that favours the extremists. We would be restoring hope to the Palestinians by making progress towards the final status.

To mark their determined commitment to a negotiated peace, the Palestinian authorities should, in the framework of this approach, reaffirm Israel’s right to exist and to security. Furthermore, they should pledge to avoid using this new status to undertake actions incompatible with the continuation of negotiations.

My dear colleagues, we have no other choice: inaction and deadlock, or an intermediate solution that would help restore hope to the Palestinians, with the status of observer state. At the same time, Israel should observe the same restraint – she should refrain from any actions that jeopardize the final status.

The ultimate goal is of course the mutual recognition of two nation states for two peoples, established on the basis of the 1967 borders, with agreed and equivalent exchanges of land.

Let this General Assembly, which is empowered to do so, decide to move forward, decide to release itself from the fatal trap of paralysis, decide to reject the missed opportunities and failed attempts to revive the process! Let us change our methods! Let us change our mentality!

Let each party make the effort to understand the other’s reasons, their sufferings and their fears.

Let each party open its eyes and be ready to make concessions.

In conclusion – and I say this with deep and sincere friendship for the Palestinian people – I want to say to the Palestinians: think of the Israeli mothers grieving for their family members killed in terrorist attacks. They feel the same pain as the Palestinian mothers told of the brutal death of one of their loved ones.

I want to tell the Israeli people, with deep and sincere friendship: listen to what the young people of the Arab Spring have been crying. They’ve been crying, “Long live freedom!” They haven’t been crying, “Down with Israel”. You can’t remain motionless when this wind of freedom and democracy is blowing through your region.

Once again, I say this with deep and sincere friendship for these two peoples who have suffered so much: the time has come to build peace for the children of Palestine and the children of Israel. It would be all too devastating if the UN General Assembly did not take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Arab awakening to democracy to resolve a problem that has hounded these two peoples, who are in any case fated to live alongside one another. If we adopt a compromise solution, we will restore trust and restore hope.

And I solemnly say to the representatives of all nations: we must assume this historic responsibility. It is the UN General Assembly that is bringing about this rendezvous with history.

Let us reassure Israel and give hope to the Palestinian people. The solution is on the table. Let us choose a compromise solution over deadlock, because while deadlock might satisfy everyone here, it will create violence, bitterness and resistance that will endanger the Arab awakening. France tells you that this tragedy must cease for a simple reason – it has gone on for far too long.

Thank you


Read Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech during a meeting on Libya (UN - Sept. 20 2011)

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