General Assembly of the United Nations: Speech by Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy

21 September 2011 - General Assembly - Opening of the 66th session - Speech by Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic

Unofficial translation

Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy - Opening of the 66th UNGA session - New York - 21 September 2011 - UN Photo/Marco Castro

Mr. Secretary General,

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 just 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 demand 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 destroy 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 throughout the world.

It was a call for justice that shook the world, and we cannot 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 find a solution to the Middle East crisis.

We can wait no longer! The method used up to now—and I am choosing my words carefully—has failed. We must therefore change the 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 have been sidelined for our efforts to succeed.

I would like to say that no one can imagine the peace process succeeding without Europe; no one can imagine it succeeding without the involvement of all the permanent members of the Security Council; no one can imagine it succeeding without the involvement of the Arab states that have already chosen peace. A collective approach has become essential to creating trust and providing real guarantees to each of the parties.

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

The method is no longer working.

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

All the elements of a solution are known and enshrined in numerous documents, from the Madrid Conference of 1991 to President Obama’s speech of May 19, 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 centimeter. Doesn’t that oblige us to change 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 fall 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, the question of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis has continued to fester.

We can no longer wait to take the path of peace!

Put yourselves 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 its security?

Put yourselves 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 all know quite well—and let’s put an end to the hypocrisy and one-off diplomacy—we all know quite well that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state. The first reason for this is the lack of trust between the main parties. But frankly, is there anyone who doubts that a veto at the Security Council will engender a cycle of violence in the Middle East? Is there anyone 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 favors the extremists. We would be restoring hope to the Palestinians by making progress toward the final status.

To mark their determined commitment to a negotiated peace, the Palestinian authorities must, 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 must observe the same restraint—it must refrain from any actions that would 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 on 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 method! 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 tell 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 facing the brutal death of one of their own relatives.

I want to tell the Israeli people, with deep and sincere friendship: Listen to what the young people of the Arab Spring are crying. They are crying, “Long live freedom!” They are not crying, “Down with Israel.” You cannot 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, which are in any case fated to live next door to one another. If we adopt a compromise solution, we will restore trust and restore their 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 give rise to violence, bitterness and resistance that will endanger the Arab awakening. France says that this tragedy must cease for a simple reason—it has gone on for far too long.

Thank you.

Last modified on 23/09/2011

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