Right of Reply – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Right of Reply by Ms. Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, before the 4th Committee debate on Item 51: UNRWA, 7 November 2013:

Mr. Chair,

I apologize for taking the floor once again.  However, I am compelled to reply to the assertion by the delegate of Israel that the right of return of the Palestine refugees is a “non-starter” – despite the fact that the Palestine refugee issue is an agreed final status issue to be negotiated between the parties – and the claim that it is “the obstacle to peace”.

I ask the Committee: How is respect for human rights and international law contrary to the requirements for peace? How does the obstruction of rights, the perpetuation of the exile, dispossession and misery of a people serve the cause of peace?  It does not.

The Israeli delegate called for “putting people before politics”.  We agree.  This would require, first and foremost, recognition by Israel of the humanity of the Palestine refugees, of the suffering and loss it has inflicted on them, and of their right to justice.  It requires an end to the denial of their rights based on narrow, cynical and unjustified political interests.

Furthermore, the callous remarks regarding the “number” of Palestine refugee, and who constitutes a Palestine refugee or not, are the height of hypocrisy by a State granting return to any Jewish person from anywhere in the world, yet denying Palestine refugees their right to return.

Mr. Chair,

After nearly 66 years since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 181 (II) (29 November 1947), by which it was decided to partition historic Palestine and by which the State of Israel was created, it must be reiterated that the resolution never envisaged the departure or removal of the indigenous Palestinian population and their perpetual dispossession.

Israel’s flagrant rejection of the rights of the Palestine refugees and its obstruction of this right for more than six decades is immoral and indefensible.  We must ask ourselves why, following the cessation of hostilities in 1949 and the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement, why did Israel deny the Palestine refugees their right to return to live in peace with their neighbors and their right to compensation for their destroyed homes, properties and losses?  Why has it continued to deny these rights for more than 65 years?

Imagine if this was done by any other State today?  Imagine if following the end to a conflict, those in power refused the return of millions displaced from their homes in the conflict solely based on their ethnicity and religion? How would the international community react to such an immoral, illegitimate action?

And yet, remarkably, the Palestinian people and their leadership remain committed to compromise to achieve peace and coexistence with Israel, only insisting that this be based on a modicum of justice, rooted in the principles and provisions of international law, as they are impossible to achieve in its absence.

Mr. Chair,

The international community has rightly stood in support of the rights of the Palestine refugees and in support of UNRWA’s mandate.  The answer to the Israeli assertions regarding UNRWA and the Palestine refugees is found in the many statements of support for both the refugees and the Agency’s humanitarian work that we have heard in this debate and in the overwhelming support by the General Assembly for the resolutions in this regard.

This is an issue of justice, rights and humanitarian and political responsibility, an issue which clearly has resonance both in the region and throughout the international community, as reflected in the concerns and support expressed from every corner of the globe.  This longstanding, principled support is the clear answer to Israel’s rejectionist stance and illogical arguments, and we reiterate our gratitude to the international community for this support.

Lastly, Mr. Chair, I wish to end on a positive note. As this is Commissioner-General Grandi’s last session with the 4th Committee, I wish to again express our deepest appreciation to him as he nears the end of his term, expressing our gratitude for his dedicated and skilled leadership and principled advocacy on behalf of the Palestine refugees over the many years.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.