Dr. Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a former Palestinian Authority (PA) minister, attended the 16th Herzliya Conference on June 16-18, 2016. Speaking at the conference, Majdalani called on attendants to fulfill their responsibility "to have courage to make fateful decisions for comprehensive and just peace" by adopting the Arab peace initiative, which is based on the two-state solution – that is, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of refugees to their homes.
Majdalani stressed that the Palestinian people yearns for liberty and fights for it and for comprehensive and just peace. He added that historically, Palestinians have based all their policy and strategy on "international legitimacy" and UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian issue, and that they have reached out their hand in peace, from Yasser Arafat's 1974 speech at the UN, through the Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords, to the 20 years of negotiations since then. However, according to him, Israeli governments have thwarted peace under false pretenses, and have created facts on the ground by expropriating land, expanding settlements, and increasing aggression towards the Palestinians.
Majdalani accused the current Israeli government of extremism, racism, and engaging in warring discourse, and even compared its treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews. He also compared settlers to ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra, warning that the price for these policies and trends will not be paid for only by the Palestinian people, but by the entire Israeli society as well. He noted, however, that those who signed peace agreements with the Palestinians thus far were actually right wing governments, and that the current Israeli administration must choose between peace, which would bring security, stability, and growth, and war, which would bring ruin and disaster.
It should be mentioned that according to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, the PA presidency stated that Majdalani's participation at the conference was on orders from President Mahmoud 'Abbas.
Following are excerpts from Majdalani's speech:
Dr. Ahmed Majdalani (Image: Maannews.net)
"Just Peace Is The True Victory... And Grants Love, Coexistence, And Humaneness To People"
"When I received the invitation to attend the 16th Herzliya Conference on June 16-18, I did not hesitate for a second [and decided] to attend and deliver a speech to an audience of academics, politicians, and intellectuals, out of the belief that those who seek comprehensive and just peace should go even to the ends of the earth for its sake...
"Leaders are the ones who choose if they want war or peace. Anyone who believes that in war there are winners and losers is deluding himself, since in war, the only loser is man, who is meant to be the most precious thing. Comprehensive and just peace is the true victory, not just for one side or one people at the expense of the other, but rather for all, because it always provides peoples with security and stability, and with all the elements and foundations for constant development in all fields, and, most importantly, grants love, coexistence, and humaneness to people...
"In the life of nations and peoples, there are moments at which the wise and sharp-witted are required to look to the past and its residues in order to establish a bridge to a new horizon. You [conference attendees] are those who should – even prior to the Palestinian people and leadership – bear the responsibility that rests with us all, to have courage to make fateful decisions for comprehensive and just peace... A soul that perishes in war is a human soul, not a military vehicle or a building. Over the years, [mutual killing] breeds hatred, resentment, and blind extremism that becomes blind terrorism that does not distinguish one [person] from another or black from white."
Jews Established A Homeland On Land That Is Not Theirs; They Must Understand The Palestinian People's Determination To Establish Its State In Its Homeland
"I do not wish to speak of the past and the bitter reality since the Balfour Declaration. You, and your previous governments, know the facts well, and if you found the legal and moral justification to establish a national homeland on land that wasn't yours, then you should now understand the Palestinian people's determination and struggle to establish its state in its homeland on the June 4, 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. When some fanatics and extremists demand that the Palestinian people relinquish its permanent rights, which were affirmed by international treaties and UN resolutions, they essentially demand that it abandon its identity, its future existence, and any hope it has for life. What does this mean? It means the erasure of the people's rights of self-determination and a blatant challenge to international legitimacy and to the UN and its charter... Racism and fascism also contradict the monotheistic faiths, which call for tolerance and fellowship. Instead of reawakening the hatred of wars and aggression, we should reawaken the spirit of [second Caliph] 'Omar bin Al-Khattab and Salah Al-Din – meaning the spirit of tolerance and respect for rights."
The Palestinians Have Been Extending Their hand In Peace For Decades, But Israeli Governments Avoid Solving The Crisis
"Since the PLO was established, it has struggled to restore the rights of the Palestinian people by establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem and its environs as its capital, and through the return of refugees to the homes from which they were expelled, in accordance with UN resolution 181. Historically, the PLO and its leadership have based all their policy and strategy on international legitimacy and UN resolutions concerning the Palestinian issue and the rights of our Palestinian people, as well as on the belief that only comprehensive and just peace would ensure the realization of rights and bring about security and stability."
"This was expressed in the historic speech by the late brother and leader Yasser Arafat at the UN in 1974, in which he addressed the whole world, including the Israeli people and its government, and said our hand is extended in peace. Indeed, for the Palestinian people and its leadership, peace is not just words or a refrain that we repeat to our people and the world, but is a plan of action through which we aspire to realize our permanent and just rights in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions, chiefly UN resolutions 194, 181, 242, and 338...
"In 1988, negotiations between the PLO and the U.S. administration began, not due to conflict between the Palestinian and American peoples, but because the U.S.,... being Israel's first and foremost strategic ally committed to protecting Israel's existence and security, chose to deal with the reality on the ground and recognize that the Palestinian people have legitimate rights and that the Palestinian issue is the heart and the essence of the struggle [in the Middle East], and that so long as it remains unsolved – the conflict will continue and even intensify...
"We are a people that yearns for liberty and struggles for it and for comprehensive and just peace, through which we will build bridges of love and tolerance. This was embodied by the Madrid peace conference in 1992, and later in the signing of the Oslo Accords, which should have ended five years later with a final and historic agreement that ends this historic conflict. However, and I say this as explicitly as possible, those who thwarted this were Israeli governments that came one after the other, using weak excuses that have no basis other than in the minds of extremists and those with racist tendencies, and are based on condescension, boasting of military superiority, the balance of power, and the upheavals in the world between one historic period and another.
"Despite this, the Palestinian people and its leadership did not despair for a moment. They entered U.S.-sponsored bilateral talks for 20 years, and in response, Israeli governments used evasion tactics, and moreover, created facts on the ground by expropriating land, expanding settlements, and increasing aggression against our people... But the extremists, in their attempt to thwart the two-state solution that was approved by the whole world, both on the popular and official levels, did not consider the Palestinian people and its mighty national rights... and [did not realize] that it is unthinkable for the international community – that recognized Palestine in the June 4, 1967 borders including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank – to turn a blind eye to the attempts of Israel and the current Netanyahu government to thwart or eliminate this decision with steps that violate international law, and to continue controlling occupied Arab territory.
"Many changes rocked the world late in the last century, and it is currently being rocked by others, which could influence the future of the region and its alliances... The only thing that hasn't changed is the dominant mentality in Israel, which is based on extremism and racism. How can the [Israeli] ruling elite shed tears for [the Jews'] past history while doing the same thing to another people? It is unthinkable that those who suffered woes and disasters do the same to others, unless they are deceitful hypocrites who wish to repeat history by [causing] a disaster to another people – the Palestinian people.
"It is true that those who signed peace agreements and started the negotiations in Israel are right wing Israeli governments... and it is also true that the current Israeli government headed by Netanyahu, which is the most right wing in the history of Israeli administrations... can follow [the example of those] governments that made peace with Egypt... and Jordan... by taking a brave step and a daring decision to reach a permanent agreement with the PLO and recognize the two-state solution. This will ensure that this government receives widespread support from the opposition parties that are not represented in it. But it is clear that the [coalition] deal signed with [Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman, and the political discourse of this government to this moment, constitute a discourse of war, not of peace. [It is] an extremist discourse that will only bring disasters, a racist discourse that reeks of fascism, which reminds me of statements by many Israeli military commanders on the buds of fascism in Israel, including [Ehud] Barak and [Moshe] Ya'alon, and most recently, Amir Peretz. This means that not only will the Palestinian people pay the price of these policies and trends, but the entire Israeli society as well."
Palestinians Have Already Chosen Peace, Now Israelis And Regional Peoples Must Make Their Own Decision
We are facing a historic opportunity, and we must use it and benefit from it... for the sake of comprehensive and just peace... based on the Arab peace initiative approved by the Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002, and later adopted by the [Organization of the] Islamic [Conference] summit in Tehran in 2003. Therefore, 57 Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran, are currently prepared to have normal political relations with Israel in return for ending the occupation and recognizing Palestine in the 1967 borders.
"The Palestinian leadership is deeply convinced that ending the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the true path to regional stability and to stopping the influence of the forces of terrorism and extremism that we witness in a thousand forms and garbs, regardless of the religious banner they hide behind. The best evidence of this is that we have ISIS and [Jabhat] Al-Nusra on one hand, and the plots of the settlers, who conduct terrorism against our people in the occupied territories [on the other]. Ever since [first] reaching out in peace and to this moment, we have found no true Israeli partner to realize the two-state solution and to enact comprehensive and just peace, aside from the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who paid the price [for the existence of] extremism and violence with his life. Despite all that has happened, our hand is [still] extended in peace... There is now a chance for us and the current Israeli government and all parts of [the Israeli] people, due to the international and regional interest expressed in the Paris conference and the initiative of Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi...
"It should be mentioned that the attempts of the current Israeli government to deceptively claim that normalization with Arab countries is moving forward with full force is [nothing but] throwing sand in people's eyes... The security that the Israeli government uses as an excuse cannot be achieved without comprehensive and just peace... since security is the result of international guarantees only, and not of control and tyranny. War on terrorism starts by removing the fuse that causes it, which is the occupation, considered to be the world's last occupation of one people by another. The key to peace or war in the entire region is the Palestinian issue. The Israeli government should choose between peace, which will bring security, stability, and growth, and war, which will bring ruin and disaster.
"We have already chosen peace from [a position of] strength and out of a deep conviction in our legitimate struggle to liberate our people. [Now] you, the Israeli people and the peoples of the entire region, what do you choose? I propose that this conference adopt a strategy of peace according to the Arab peace initiative which is based on the two-state solution, and of conducting measured relations between all countries in the region, including Israel."