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Delegates demand Israel stop destroying infrastructure as Second Committee considers sovereignty over natural resources in occupied Arab lands

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GA/EF/3219

Sixty-third General Assembly
Second Committee
13th Meeting (AM & PM)

Occupying Power Uses Rhetoric of Peace to Buy Time, Says Observer for Palestine

Israel must immediately stop destroying infrastructure in occupied Arab lands and the building of its annexation wall in the West Bank, actions that had caused massive environmental damage, water deprivation and socio-economic degradation of the Palestinians and Syrians living in those territories, several speakers told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon.

As the Committee took up its agenda item on the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources, the Observer for Palestine said Israel had used the rhetoric of peace to buy time, while continuing illegally to confiscate Palestinian land and resources, and destroying many pillars of a future Palestinian State.

He said Israel's illegal exploitation and degradation of the natural resources in occupied lands had caused drought and desertification, leaving Palestinians with less water sources than had been available prior to the Israel occupation in 1967. Israel was waging a war against local agriculture, the main source of income for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. According to a recent report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Israel had driven the Palestinian agriculture sector to near-collapse after banning all agricultural exports. Its restrictions on sea access had pushed the Gaza fishing catch to near extinction, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Israel had destroyed Palestinian water networks, allocating only one eighth of the West Bank's freshwater to the Palestinian population, he said. That had forced more than a million Palestinians to spend more than 12 per cent of their household income on water. Some 70 per cent of Gaza families received water once every five days and much of their untreated sewage was pumped into the sea. Moreover, the 16-fold increase in Israeli settlement units since the Annapolis Conference last year was in grave violation of international law. It was the moral duty of the United Nations to pursue the protection of Palestinian rights and not to tire until Israel stopped exploiting Palestinian resources and compensated them for their losses and degradation.

Israel's representative, disagreeing with those statements, said the report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the subject ignored the fact that, under agreements reached between the two sides, the Palestinian Authority already exercised jurisdiction over many natural resources, while interim cooperation and arrangements were in place for others. Cooperation was critical since natural resources cut across borders and affected all people in the region.

He pointed out that no references had been made during the debate to Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli citizens and the vicious incitement that took place in Hamas-run schools. Since Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip those actions had intensified alongside the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza and attacks by terrorists on border crossing points. Israel's security measures were a necessary response, which would not be needed if there were no terrorism.

The Committee was once again considering an item that reflected a one-sided political agenda and which did not advance either peace or the sharing of resources, he said. It should turn its attention to urgent global issues rather than single out one country for discriminatory treatment. The economic and social situation of all parties would improve once Israelis and Palestinians negotiated a fair, just and lasting final status agreement through bilateral dialogue among those committed to coexistence.

Lebanon's representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the ability of the Palestinians to achieve the Millennium Development Goals had been pushed "off-track" by Israel's occupation and its construction of illegal settlements and the separation wall, which had led to continued abject poverty, hunger and high unemployment. Israeli occupation forces had demolished more than 2,200 homes in the West Bank and Gaza in the past decade, leaving more than 13,000 Palestinians homeless, while illegally confiscating more than 38 per cent of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and constructing 400 Israeli residential units in the West Bank in December 2007. That had been followed by a 45 per cent increase in expansion in the nine-month period directly thereafter. In the Syrian Golan, Israel had built another 45 settlements.

Noting the "incapacity" of the international community to end the occupation, he urged Member States to force Israel to respect its international commitments under international law, international humanitarian law, and relevant United Nation resolutions; pay compensation for damages, and recognize the right of sovereignty over natural resources.

Syria's representative said the reality showed that, despite all the resolutions adopted on the subject, the sufferings of people living under Israeli occupation since 1967 were still increasing. Israel continued to adopt policies and impose practices on Syrians in the occupied Golan. It was depriving them of their livelihoods and of rights stipulated by international law. It was depleting the Golan's natural resources while preventing Syrian inhabitants from exploiting them. Israel was also dumping nuclear waste, destroying Syrian agricultural land and uprooting fruit trees in order to confiscate land and build military sites. Furthermore, it was imposing very high taxes on Syrian produce while its landmines threatened Syrian villagers.

Israeli army commanders were committing crimes against humanity, and should be held accountable and tried immediately, he said. When the Second Committee asked the Assembly to adopt resolutions taking into account the populations living under occupation, it conveyed a very clear message to the people and future generations that the policy of occupying other peoples' lands by force infringed on their human nature and international law. The Assembly's inability to impose its resolutions because of an imbalance of political powers did not make those resolutions any less important, he stressed.

Amr Nour, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Regional Commissions New York Office, introduced the ESCWA report (document A/63/74-E/2008/13) on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Other speakers this afternoon were representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Malaysia, Jordan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nicaragua, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Libya and Qatar.

The Observer for Palestine made a statement in exercise of the right of reply.

In the morning, the Committee held a panel discussion on the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017), during which several speakers noted that poverty was one of the world's greatest challenges. The current financial, energy and food crises had reversed many of the recent gains to fight global poverty and malnutrition, adding millions more to the ranks of poor, hungry people, particularly in developing countries.

Jane Stewart, Special Representative and Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office at the United Nations, noted that 2.6 billion people -- 40 per cent of the world's population -- still lived on less than $2 a day, the same number as in 1981. Speakers also stressed that social protection and decent work were integral to poverty reduction and development.

Committee Chair Uche Joy Ogwu ( Nigeria) made introductory remarks during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. The panellists were Arnold Kuijpers, Managing Director of Rabobank Financial Institutions Development BV; Gawain Kripke, Senior Policy Adviser of Oxfam America in Washington, D.C.; and Augustine Philip Mahiga, Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations.

Participating in the discussion included the representatives of Morocco, Comoros and Malaysia.

The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 October, to consider the eradication of poverty.