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Prime-minister designate Mahmoud Abbas' speech
to the Palestinian Legislative Council

April 29, 2003

In the name of Allah the most Merciful, the Compassionate

(And He says: Do. For Allah will see the results of your work and so will his Prophet and believers)

Brother and life-long comrade, President Yasser Arafat, President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, President of the National Authority,

Brother Saleem Al-Zaínoun, Chair of the National Council,

Brother Ahmad Qureií, Speaker of the Legislative Council,

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Council

Brothers and sisters, Members of the diplomatic community and distinguished guests,

May Peace and the Mercy of Allah be upon you.

I am filled with confidence and pride as I stand here before our elected Legislative Council, one of the expressions of the sovereignty of our people, and the constitutional reference for the government, and whose elected members are an integral part of our National Council that guards our political organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization.

I begin my speech by expressing all respect and esteem to the Palestinian people in every city, village and refugee camp in our homeland and in the Diaspora, to our resilient and struggling people of whom we are proud. We cherish this unlimited pride that has extended across several generations. This pride is exemplified in the hundreds of thousands of martyrs, injured and detainees who protect our national identity in spite of all attempts to destroy and annul our rights. We have preserved our inalienable rights and established our National Authority as an imperative step towards the establishment of our forthcoming independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Our people, who have been steadfast throughout the past two and a half years during the courageous uprising against Israelís aggression, despite the killing and destruction in Jenin and its heroic camp, in Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Hebron and all of our resistant cities, villages and camps in the West Bank and in Rafah, Khan Yunis, Dayr al-Balah, Gaza City, Beit Hanoun, Jabalya and in every part of our steadfast Strip. I specifically want to honor the families who have lost their loved ones, those who have suffered injuries, Palestinian political prisoners and those who have personally suffered. Palestinian accomplishments will always be indebted to the sacrifices of these heroes and to their families, people and homeland.

We are a highly-distinguished people and our energy has grown--in the eyes of the whole world--to be worthy of a genuine state that enjoys sovereignty like all other peoples and states: a modern and democratic state that will constitute a safe home to all Palestinians and an effective partner in building and supporting security and stability in the region. I believe that part of the responsibilities of the government should be to build the pillars of this state including the preparation for presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections, based on the Elections Law which we hope will be passed soon by your distinguished Council.

Mr. President, Brothers and Sisters,

The root of our suffering and the source of our pain is the occupation and its detestable oppressive policies. We all commit to ending the occupation in all of its shapes and forms. This requires that we direct our main efforts to internal housekeeping while being committed to the provisions of the Basic Law adopted by the Palestinian Legislative Council and ratified by President Yasser Arafat. The government commits itself to abiding by the Law and enforcing it on all Palestinian institutions in order to ensure that in a short time there will be no violations of the Law and no signs of chaos or ambiguity in society. We will implement our Basic Law in a manner proving that we merit a state and will abide by its constitution. Our government will not allow for any violation of this Law.

The government is certain that internal organization cannot be achieved without a collective commitment to the principle of the rule of law. The rule of law will be meaningless without an independent, effective and impartial judiciary, and efficient legal institutions with a Ministry of Justice that supports the independence of the judiciary and an enforcement mechanism capable of implementing such provisions. The government promises to work side by side with the President and the Legislative Council to restructure the Higher Judiciary Council in accordance with the provisions of the Law and the Independence of the Judiciary. It also promises to improve the courts. It is committed to helping the courts overcome their gaps and perform their duties in the best manner. The government commits itself to work on the preparation of draft laws and regulations to complete the National Authority's body of laws. The judicial system is the real face of any society and the most accurate indicator of its civilization, progress and development. Accordingly, the government shall pay special attention to the judiciary.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The government will concentrate on the question of security. Our understanding of security is the security of Palestinian citizens in their homeland. We seek the security of the homeland for all sectors of society. Based on this understanding, the government endeavors to develop the security organs and apparatuses according to law. It will allocate special attention to the professional qualifications of the leaders and members of such security organs. It will show tolerate no breach of discipline or violations of the law. The government will not allow--to the contrary it will strictly prevent--interference by the security forces in the lives, affairs and business of citizens unless within the limits permitted by the law. In this respect, the government will build upon the achievements of the previous government regarding the organization and responsibilities of the security apparatuses. These security arrangements give the Minister of the Interior wide jurisdiction, and provide him with the ability to control the internal situation and improve security performance.

The government understands that citizensí feeling of safety and security is the most important pillar of national resistance and is the most important requirement for growth and progress in all aspects of life for both individuals and the community. Therefore, the unauthorized possession of weapons, with its direct threat to the security of the population, is a major concern that will be relentlessly addressed. We aim to ensure that only legitimate weapons are used to preserve public order and implement the law. There will be no other decision-making authority except for the legitimate one--the Palestinian Authority. On this land and for this people, there is only one authority, one law, and one democratic and national decision that applies to us all.

It should be understood here that the rights of citizens to freely express themselves will not be jeopardized by any person or under any pretense or justification. Palestinians may hold any political views, and exercise such rights and freedoms in accordance with the law.

The government is aware of the importance of political opposition and is fully aware of the right of the opposition to strive to achieve power. In order to foster this, we call upon the opposition factions and forces to develop their institutions, frameworks and dialogues and to halt any incitement and negative campaigning. We call upon the opposition to make use of both the free press and the law to exercise its voice and to present its viewpoints. We also call on all sectors of Palestinian society to utilize the Political Party Law to revive internal political debate and enhance its effectiveness. I reconfirm here that our government will stand for pluralism within the framework of national unity in accordance with the law, but pluralism does not extend to security.

Within this framework, we will develop the most effective means of reaching an internal understanding aimed at ensuring the rights of all forces, parties and factions to exist and work. Here, I call upon all of you to partake in the election of representative institutions, particularly given that we have chosen elections as a non-revocable means to formulate and activate these organs.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the PLC,

The government understands the magnitude of our suffering and economic difficulties as a result of the continuation and escalation of Israeli measures. This suffering has led to an increase in poverty and unemployment rates, with a major deterioration in economic indicators. This is a result of the enormous destruction of our infrastructure, our private property and sources of livelihood caused by the occupation. Palestinian citizens seek a glimmer of hope to eradicate their suffering and its destructive impact on their lives. The government pledges to address this economic situation by taking timely measures, within its capacities, to improve the living conditions mainly of the unemployed and other people living in extreme hardship until passage of the Social Security Law. The government will also work to restore the infrastructure that has been destroyed by the occupation. Within this framework, the government promises to launch an international effort to seek rehabilitation for the economic destruction caused by Israelís oppression, invasions, and killings.

The government will work to prepare a comprehensive national development plan (that includes Jerusalem) in which we will devote sufficient attention to the service and economic sectors and will provide necessary health, educational, cultural, media and agricultural services to citizen. The plan will be carried out in a professional and transparent manner. In this context, the government is keen to continue working with the private sector in order to enact and enforce legislation and regulations that will strengthen the market economy and develop the national economy and provide protection to investments and investors.

Moreover, the government will devote itself to the situation of Palestinian women, who constitute half of our population, and who play a major and effective role in our lives. We will also continue to work on the protection of the rights of children and families and develop the youth sector to ensure a better future for our people.

As regards the financial issue, the government will continue its efforts to implement the new fiscal policy and all the measures and arrangements as they were submitted to you by the Minister of Finance through the Budget Law. The fiscal policy reasserts our commitment to regulate the investments of the Palestinian Authority. These investments will be fully placed under the governmentís supervision and control so that all resources of the Palestinian Authority will be unified in the Ministry of Finance in accordance with international best practices in the administration of public funds.

The government will not allow--and will devise strict regulations to combat--abuse of personal positions in the exercise of trade and investment.

Public funds belong to the citizens and to the nation. Preserving public funds is a national and moral duty that will be exercised through institutions, laws, transparency and continuous supervision. In this context, the government will prosecute persons accused of corruption and embezzlement based on concrete evidence and pursuant to due process. The government is fully prepared to receive any complaints and supporting evidence in this regard, and to refer these to the competent authorities.

The government is fully aware of the problems facing our administrative structure and understands that it is necessary to quickly remedy this problem. It will continue to implement and develop its reform plan--in particular the reform plan adopted by the Legislative Council through a joint committee between the Council, the government and in cooperation with all relevant parties including civil society. The government will build the Ministerial Cabinet with professionalism and work ethics that will improve the work of all Executive Authority institutions in order to serve the public interest. One of the most important steps in this regard is the implementation of the financial and administrative components of the Civil Service Law. We will ensure that all civil servants (who number more than 120,000) are given guarantees for their present and future so that they have sufficient pension salaries upon the termination of their employment, in accordance with a comprehensive pension system that we hope to finalize in the coming few months.

The government will not allow for any sign of chaos, waste or duplication in our administrative structure and will therefore continue our efforts to restructure government ministries, institutions and agencies by merging and abolishing such organs as needed to allow them to best perform their tasks in serving the state and its citizens. All of this will be framed within a modern and comprehensive administrative law that the government will work to formulate in order to organize all aspects of the Executive Authority.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the PLC

You may have noticed that I intentionally began this statement with the governmentís vision of the internal situation and the areas of major concern.

This is a message that we are conveying to Palestinian citizens who seek wide-scale reforms in all aspects of their lives and related to their rights.

However, the internal situation cannot be separated from the painful and political reality in which we live and encounter: the deplorable occupation and its accompanying colonization and oppressive policies that have caused us tremendous pain and suffering.

Once again, I reiterate that the military and colonizing occupation with its practices that include assassinations, detentions, checkpoints, sieges, demolition of homes and properties is the root of our suffering, has deepened our suffering and is the main source of our problems. The occupation impedes our growth and therefore ending the occupation in all of it forms and from all of the territories occupied since 1967, including our eternal capital Jerusalem, is our national priority that requires solidarity and unity among all Palestinian forces under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole representative of our people authorized by the major Palestinian institutions, foremost among which are the National and Central Council, to negotiate and conclude agreements on behalf of the Palestinian people.

The government, which is part of our national political system, the PLO, is fully committed to the programs and decisions of our National and Central Councils on political and strategic levels.

We should translate our decades and generations of popular and revolutionary struggles into political achievements that will bring us closer to our goal of establishing our independent state (with Jerusalem as its capital) and resolving the question of our refugees on the basis of international law.

Based on our realistic and practical understanding of the contents, mechanisms and goals of our national struggle, our people fought with honor and undertook political initiatives with consciousness and seriousness.

Every means of struggle has its time, mechanisms and calculated return. Based on this, our people, through its legitimate leadership, has presented successive serious peace initiatives and has not hesitated to adopt peace as our strategic, irrevocable choice. The peace process has gone through essential failings and major deteriorations, to the point that we have now reached the most difficult stage of this bloody and escalating conflict. While we should learn from the lessons of the past, what we are living under does not cause us to lose hope in the benefits of peace, or to turn our backs on Arab and international initiatives that aim to achieve peace.

Before us, we have the Arab peace initiative that came out of the Summit in Beirut. This has formed a national consensus on the need to end the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully and in accordance with international law. This initiative will ensure that our region goes from one of conflict to that of stability and normalized relations between all states. We also have before us the Roadmap as an international blueprint to aims to reach a permanent solution to the Palestinian question. The government is committed to the Palestinian leadershipís official approval of this plan reached after an in-depth and thorough review of it. Nonetheless, I would like to mention a few points in this regard:

Israel is attempting to alter the Roadmap as we know it by entering into complicated negotiations and by outlining its own understanding of the clauses of this plan and its means of engaging in the plan.

Our engagement in this Roadmap will not be affected by Israelís attempts and we will not negotiate the Roadmap. The Roadmap must be implemented not negotiated. Therefore, the government supports the Palestinian leadership in asserting its refusal of the so-called Israeli amendments and calls upon the Quartet--author of this plan--to announce the Roadmap as we know it, as soon as possible and to guarantee and verify the implementation of each phase with an effective and guaranteed enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.

In this context, the government reconfirms the Palestinian commitment to the implementation of all of our obligations within the framework of this plan, whether it be on political or security levels. It is quite natural that we require Israel to fulfill its mutual obligations.

Yet, what we have outlined will be meaningless if Israelís policy of imposing facts on the ground continues. Settlements, which violate international law, continue to be the major threat to the creation of a Palestinian state with genuine sovereignty. Thus, settlements are the primary obstacle to any peace process.

Settlement expansion in and around Jerusalem, with its accompanying house demolitions, confiscation of land and property, (in addition to the economic, social, administrative and cultural strangulation in the lives of Palestinians and Israelís attempt to impose a permanent solution for this Holy City by means other than negotiations) will only lead to inflaming the conflict and destroying any chance for peace.

The construction of the so-called ďseparationĒ wall is a dangerous continuation of the colonization project. In addition to the confiscation of Palestinian citizensí lands and the cutting off of their sources of livelihood, the wall is an Israeli measure that is designed to annex large areas of land, to confiscate underground water, isolate our cities and villages and to encircle the city of Jerusalem. This is another attempt to destroy any chance for peace and destroy any possibility to reach a permanent and accepted solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The removal of the wall will be among the first issues that our government will address because, without its removal, Israel will effectively destroy the Roadmap and any other peace initiative.

Here, I would like to address the Israeli people and the Israeli government frankly and directly.

We want a lasting peace with you achieved through negotiations and on the basis of international law, to implement Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, as well as signed agreements.

We denounce terrorism by any party and in all its shapes and forms both because of our religious and moral traditions and because we are convinced that such methods do not lend support to a just cause like ours, but rather destroy it. These methods do not achieve peace, to which we aspire.

We understand peace as a message of conscience and behavior based on mutual desire and recognition of rights with the goal of living in peace and security on the basis of equality.

As we extend our hand to you in peace, we reiterate that peace cannot be possible with the continuation of settlement activity. Peace will not be possible with the expropriation and annexation of land. The choice is yours: peace without settlements or a continuation of the occupation, subjugation, hatred and conflict.

To be clear, the Palestinian people will not accept anything less than the exercise of our right to self-determination and the establishment of our independent, sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital; a genuine, contiguous state without any settlements, on all of the territories occupied in 1967.

I am quite certain that you realize the importance of the question of refugees, not only in the PalestinianĖIsraeli conflict, but also in Arab and regional spheres as we are speaking of millions of Palestinian refuges around the world. Because you realize the importance of this issue, you placed it on the timetable of the permanent status negotiations.

Thus, a just, agreed upon, fair and acceptable solution to the refugee problem consistent with international law (particularly United Nations Resolution 194) will be the basis of peace and coexistence.

These are the fundamentals of any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and this will not be changed.

To the Arab population inside Israel, our people and our loved ones: I extend to you appreciation and respect for your continuous support to us in the Occupied Territories. I am certain that you will continue to play a positive role in Israeli politics, media and popular civic organization to strengthen and establish an Israeli public opinion that shares our commitment to a just political solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict and to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

We do not ignore the sufferings of Jews throughout history. And in exchange, we hope that the Israelis will not turn their back to the sufferings of the Palestinians, which include displacement, occupation, colonization and continuous oppression of the Palestinians.

To the Israeli government, which advised us that we learn the lessons of Iraq, I say...

The Palestinian people are the ones who choose their leadership. The leadership decides its politics according to independent Palestinian choice. Our legitimacy is derived from the will of the people, which is embodied in national organizations.

Those who need to learn the lessons of war and its calamities are those who still believe that military might is capable of imposing political solutions and that implicit and explicit threats are capable of dissuading people from demanding their rights. I repeat, there is no military solution to our conflict. Our people do not accept threats and will not succumb to them. On the contrary, there is no alternative to a just and comprehensive political solution. Our people welcome peace, security and prosperity to all. We welcome a peace that guarantees Israelís withdrawal from all occupied Palestinian and Arab Territories in accordance with international law.

We have heard a lot of your desire for peace, but what we have witnessed from you is siege, assassinations, invasions, destruction and a continuation of settlements. We hope that your desire for peace will be translated into action.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our hearts are filled with grief and pain because of what happened to our people in Iraq who throughout history have sacrificed for the Palestinian people. We hope for stability for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. We hope that the foreign occupation of their land will end. We hope that the reconstruction of their land will begin in the near future under an Iraqi government that represents the will of the Iraqi people and speaks on its behalf.

We understand what happened in Iraq is an expression of a new and straightforward policy vis-à-vis the Middle East, led unilaterally, to redraw the borders of the political map of the whole region. It is naÔve to assume that Palestine will not be affected by these turbulent developments, as it is only natural to feel concern for the impact and repercussions of the situation in Iraq on the Palestinian people and our cause.

We do not want to address this serious shift in policy with slogans and ardent mottos, but rather with sound logic and an understanding of our national aspirations in order to avoid losses or reduce the amount of such loss and to provide practical and realistic methods to achieve our goals.

Sisters and Brothers,

The path of negotiations is our choice and the resumption of negotiations with Israel--under the much-appreciated auspices and sponsorship of the Quartet, and in close coordination with our brothers in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia--is a constant Palestinian demand.

All through the long negotiation process, there were criticisms of our performance in negotiations. However, these criticisms do not nullify the fact that we have accumulated a rich experience from which we should benefit.

Therefore, our government will work side by side with the PLO Executive Committee and its Higher Negotiations Committee, under the direction of President Yasser Arafat, President of State and Palestinian Authority, Chairman of the PLO, in order to restructure our negotiations framework and to allow the negotiations team to dedicate itself to this important, sensitive and vital task.

I thank our Arab brothers for their continued and constant support to our people and cause and confirm the governmentís commitment to the concerns of the Arab states and to the Charter of the Arab League and its decisions. We will continue to coordinate and cooperate with our brothers to consolidate Arab consensus.

The government will remain keen on developing our strategic relations with the rest of our friends in the world whom we thank for their support and who share our commitment to balanced international relations based on compliance with international law and UN resolutions. We also call upon the Security Council to fulfill its obligations in maintaining security and peace in our region and to ensuring the implementation of its resolutions in a fair and consistent manner, while also working to protect our people and to help us achieve independence and freedom.

Mr. President, Sisters and Brothers,

I am embarking on a new mission in my political career by fulfilling a newly-created role in Palestine. I heard and read much speculation about the aim of this position. Allow me to clarify.

The post of the Prime Minister (and regardless of the person in the post), along with the Ministerial Cabinet, the Legislative Council and all of the institutions of the National Authority are an integral part of the Palestinian political system, the framework of which is the PLO. It is a constitutional position approved by all of our national institutions. In its essence, it is a serious attempt to improve the performance of our National Authority and prepare for the construction of our state including the preparation for upcoming elections--after the removal of obstacles put forth by the occupation--to establish a democratic political system. It is a position from which I will implement my government's program using all the constitutional powers vested in this post.

I wish to end my speech with a word to my brother and companion, elected President Yasser Arafat.

The government, Mr. President, is your government and the siege on you is symbolic of the resistance, pride and esteem of our great people. We will not, from this moment forth, cease our serious and assiduous work to end this unacceptable situation. The President of this people, leader of its struggle and maker of peace on its behalf has the right to regain his natural right to freedom and mobility without restrictions.

We know, Mr. President, that you have always prided yourself on sharing your people's suffering. Thus, the government, under your leadership, will not spare any effort to work to release all of our detainees, honorable heroes detained by the occupation--whose number has exceeded 10,000--including members of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Tayseer Khaled and Abdul Rahim Malowah, as well as member of the Central Council Rakad Salem and members of the Legislative Council Marwan Barghouti and Hussam Khader and the longest-detained Palestinian, Ahmad Jubarah (Abu Sukkar).

All of us in Palestine and everywhere...regardless of our positions do not have different stances... if we have different titles, we do not have different commitments and if we have different missions, we do not have different goals.

Sisters and Brothers, Members of the Council,

Before I present to you the members of my Cabinet, I would like to share with you frankly the considerations that were in my mind as I was forming the government.

The formation before you is a result of the Palestinian political reality, with all its positive and negative aspects. I know that there are many objections regarding names and portfolios, and regarding political representation, professional abilities, and so on and so forth. However, this formation is what I believe in after my extensive consultations and after taking into account our domestic politics which are known to you all.

I seek your confidence, support and cooperation because this plan requires all of our efforts. The credibility of the government will be based on the effectiveness of its performance. Therefore, just as I ask for your confidence, I call upon you to use your powers in monitoring and holding the government accountable to the fullest extent. These are tenets of the parliamentary life we have chosen. Let us move forward on these bases.

May Peace and the Mercy of Allah be upon you.

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