Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Ziad Asali, thank you very much for this great opportunity.
During this, the holy month of Ramadan, when Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an, I am reminded of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him. He stated: “A man’s true wealth is the good he does in this world.”
Tonight, we are here to celebrate this revelation. We are here to celebrate the achievements – the good – that has been done by Palestinian-Americans, and the wealth they have brought to the world. I commend each of you here for your contributions. You are shining examples for your fellow Palestinians and Americans across the globe. You are, moreover, needed examples to your fellow man.
For too long, the Palestinian people have endured great injustices and hardships. Many thousands live in hopeless poverty and thousands more have been uprooted from their homes and forced to live in diaspora. All have been deprived of minimum human and national rights. And their plight has been an open wound constantly irritated by unjustifiable occupation, painful oppression, terrorism, and deep-rooted enmity.
But tonight to those Palestinians who have overcome the many obstacles raised by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, we give praise. And I believe we in the global community should find needed and timely inspiration here.
It is time the global community overcomes its own obstacles to put an end to the suffering of Palestinians and others affected in the Middle East. It is time to move forward in securing solutions to the problems afflicting us all.
Besides being a conflict between two peoples, the situation with Palestine and Israel has also become an impediment to international stability. Without forging a solution, we will continue to be unable to secure lasting peace throughout the Middle East. And this turmoil, as we have all witnessed, will be echoed across the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It is no longer simply a regional necessity but a global imperative to find a peaceful resolution to this conflict.
As Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal noted at the UN General Assembly meeting earlier this month: “This conflict is the most enduring international conflict today, and its continuation affects negatively the chances of concluding effective solutions to other crises.... It most certainly lies at the core of the Middle Eastern problem.”
No one can deny that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will drive solutions to other regional issues – Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and others – all problems impacting the stability and prosperity of the entire global community.
Since peace is manifestly in the interests of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving Palestine and Israel towards the known outlines of a durable settlement.
In Saudi Arabia, we believe that the path to peace begins with peaceful coexistence between a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, and peace between Israel and the entire Arab world.
To this end, Saudi Arabia understands its role. What we have done, and what we are doing, is to act as a voice of reason and moderation. And we have worked to bring the Arab world together to support the peace process.
Starting a quarter of a century ago, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of then Crown Prince Fahd, began to offer a simple vision: If Israel and the Palestinians can find a peaceful territorial compromise along the lines of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, under which Israel would withdraw from the lands it occupied in the 1967 War, including Jerusalem, and make peace with a Palestinian state, then the Arab world would not only accept Israel’s existence, but have normal relations with it.
This plan, echoed and expanded by then-Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002, generated worldwide support because it went to the heart of the matter – land for peace – and defined it in terms acceptable to both peoples.
Even after the events of this summer – the capture of the Israeli soldiers followed by the destructive and vicious bombardment of Palestine and Lebanon – the Abdullah Peace Plan still stands as the best plan. What is left now is for reasonable minds on both sides to look at this historic offer objectively and without emotion, and to work to put it in place.
The American President John F. Kennedy once said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
While Saudi Arabia, as a single nation, can continue to provide aid and support peace and stability, this is not something we can accomplish alone. It is time for the United States to take action and do what it has been talking about within the framework of the Road Map.
Indeed, the basic failure of international diplomacy toward the Middle East in the past 50 years has been a lack of implementation. We’ve had ideas and proposals, resolutions and initiatives for five decades without any concrete implementation. We now have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the Abdullah Peace Plan. Let them be implemented.
There is a view that the final borders between Palestine and Israel, the refugee problem, the issue of Jerusalem, cannot be discussed before the security situation is resolved. This view says that you cannot have a Palestinian state before the Palestinians begin to act as citizens of a state. They have to prove that they are worthy, before they are rewarded with their own country.
Those who hold this view obviously have not read history – particularly American history – or considered the arrogance of their thinking. I am reminded of the heated arguments in British Parliament around 1775, when members of that Parliament argued that the people of the American Colonies could not have representatives because they were not ready to share in the right to legislate laws. The British said the Americans needed more time to prove their worthiness of such an august duty.
Those Americans first demanded there should be no taxation without representation. Then they took up arms when faced with the British army to fight for their independence. These were the same Americans who coined the words: “inalienable rights.” Alas the grandchildren of these very same people now deny the Palestinians their “inalienable rights.”
Ladies and Gentlemen: As a representative of the Saudi people and the Saudi King – who are taking the first steps to emulate and learn from your experience and who admire the ideals and principles brought forth by your founding fathers – I tell you that it is a pity that you have been blessed with such bounty; yet you still deny others the same rights for which your ancestors fought and shed blood. Occupation and oppression drive the Palestinians to violence. To paraphrase one of your patriots: “Give them liberty or give them death.”
Given the problems facing the U.S. – the most critical of which being terrorism and Iraq – a strong push for the Middle East peace process would go a long way to helping bring stability and security. The political reality is that, in terms of public opinion, U.S. standing in the Middle East is at its all time low. Something must be done to reverse that, lest it continue to fuel tensions and bring about new problems. Action needs to be taken, and U.S. policy towards the Middle East needs to change.
Moreover, when considering the United Nations, it is astonishing to see that during more than 60 years of history the world has overcome and resolved problems as intractable as colonialism, the Cold War or IRA insurgency; yet the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to gather steam in defiance of the many UN resolutions that clearly set out a solution to the conflict. Israel is the only country that throughout all those years has consistently expanded its borders. That situation is unacceptable, and Arabs today are united in waging peace and demanding that the occupation, the humiliation, and the violence stop.
Now I am encouraged by the words of Secretary Rice, and by conversations between our government and the Administration. But encouragement is not enough. When it comes to Middle East peace, hope is too easily dashed.
Those of you who we are celebrating tonight did not achieve your accomplishments by talking about them. You stood up to your critics and overcame your challenges. We all commend you. And I firmly believe we will all be able to look at each other some day and celebrate the actions we took to help bring peace and security and resolution to the challenges that face us today.
God willing, this will be the case. But first we need to act.
Ashkurukum shukran jazeelan – thank you all very much – and barak Allah feekum – and God bless you all.