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Report of the Director-General, Appendix: The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories

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Preface

This Report was prepared, as in previous years, following high-level missions to Israel and the occupied Arab territories and to the Syrian Arab Republic. The missions enjoyed once more the full cooperation of ILO constituents and concerned parties, reaffirming support for the ILO s efforts to contribute to building peace and security in the region through monitoring and assessing economic and social development in its fields of competence.

My representatives held direct in-depth consultations with a wide range of interested parties, including ILO partners in the occupied Arab territories and constituents in the Syrian Arab Republic and in Israel, with United Nations agencies, human rights organizations, and national non-governmental and international intergovernmental organizations.

This Report describes the grim plight of people in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the occupied Syrian Golan. Violence has continued to affect both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, but with very different levels of intensity.

Economic activity has declined sharply, leading to more widespread poverty, precarious employment and unemployment. Enterprises find it increasingly difficult to operate amid escalating logistical costs. Workers and their families are faced with shrinking employment opportunities and erratic payment of wages. Permits and checkpoints mark daily life. Palestinian government institutions are grappling with a decline in resources. Confrontations between Palestinians further complicate the situation.

The immediate cause of economic and social hardship is the pervasive system of closures and controls, including the Separation Barrier, put in place by the occupying power. But a large part of the security measures deployed by the Israeli Government seek to protect Israeli citizens who have settled in the occupied Arab territories. This protection is at the same time causing economic and social insecurity for the people in those territories.

A situation of prosperity and security, on the one side, and military occupation, poverty and insecurity, on the other, is fraught with dangers for both sides and is not sustainable.

International assistance, a welcome sign of international solidarity, has increased in 2006. The donor community is funding directly many of the functions that the Palestinian Authority is no longer able to provide from its own resources owing to the reduction in external budgetary support. International assistance seeks to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people. A growing share of aid is taking the form of humanitarian assistance in an effort to address the most severe manifestations of the unfolding economic and social crisis. This means providing food aid, temporary jobs through cash-for-work and social assistance to the most needy.

While short-term assistance addressing the emergency needs of Palestinian people is necessary and welcome, it is not a sustainable solution for the development of the occupied Arab territories.

Government officials and employers and workers met by the ILO mission have stressed the imperative of upholding freely chosen and productive employment as the only basis for work in dignity. This is consistent with the ILO s values of decent work within the meaning of the ILO Constitution as a fundamental basis for human security and personal dignity.

Every effort is needed to enable enterprises and other actors to sustain economic activities and contribute to building a viable economy as a foundation of a future Palestinian State. This implies, within today s extraordinary limitations, an environment more conducive to investment, entrepreneurial initiative and employment generation, and mindful of rights at work. Tripartite dialogue between the Government and representative employers and workers organizations is a powerful means to support that objective and reduce tensions.

The Palestinian Authority, international donors and Israel should seek to support entrepreneurs and workers in order to consolidate enterprises, encourage new investment and diversify economic activity. This would contribute to fostering security for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as moving closer to a long-term negotiated solution to the conflict.

In the first months of 2007, political dialogue appears to be regaining the initiative. Through the mediation of King Abdullah Ben Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, a National Unity Government was formed on 17 March 2007. It has adopted an ambitious platform, and has been actively seeking a solution to its financial isolation so that it can function more normally.

The Middle East Quartet has stated that it intends to assess the Government by its platform and composition as well as by its actions.

The Middle East Quartet has stated that it intends to assess the Government by its platform and composition as well as by its actions.

The 19th Summit Conference of the Arab League Council, convened in Riyadh from 28 to 29 March 2007, reaffirmed its full support for the peace plan proposed in 2002 by Saudi Arabia. The Arab Labour Organization fully endorsed this decision. In parallel, renewed talks have been held between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority.

The Security Council was briefed on 25 April 2007 on the situation in the Middle East by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, who stated: It is incumbent on the parties and all regional and international players to show restraint and to intensify their efforts to bring about immediate progress on the ground and to promote, as a minimum, the political will for the parties to discuss their future together. We need to move forward towards our shared goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, based on Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.

The ILO will continue to play its full part in supporting its constituents and in facilitating dialogue for peace, including through inter-faith dialogues.

ILO partners have requested the ILO to intensify its programme of technical cooperation in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the occupied Syrian Golan. The ILO will respond positively to such requests, as reflected in the conclusions of this Report, in order to strengthen the Ministry of Labour and employers and workers organizations as a means to promote dialogue and consolidate the foundations of democratic governance.

From my discussions with members of the ILO missions and other informed persons, I realize how difficult it is to express adequately in the language of a report the profound feeling of collective punishment that the Palestinian people legitimately harbour in their hearts. Again and again, the word dignity comes to mind. First and foremost, because Palestinians dignity is being trampled in so many ways, but also because of the dignity with which they confront the humiliations to which individuals, families and communities are regularly subjected.

This resilience is a source of inner strength enabling the Palestinian identity, far from being weakened, to nourish the collective energy to persist in the conviction that their quest for freedom will ultimately prevail and peace with Israel will be possible.

May 2007.

Juan Somavia, Director-General.