Sixty-third General Assembly
20th Meeting (AM)
Israel 's Speaker Says Agency's Report Suggests Israeli Actions Take Place In Security Vacuum; Still, 111 Roadblocks, 4 Key Checkpoints Removed in West Bank
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) required ample and unwavering support in its efforts to address the precarious humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian refugees in Gaza and northern Lebanon, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told, as it concluded its general debate on the work of that Agency this morning.
Stressing the importance of the safety net provided by UNRWA, the representative of Norway, whose delegation chairs the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, said the generally difficult situation of Palestinian refuges was particularly acute in the Gaza Strip and among those displaced from the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. Three years after Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, the social and economic situation remained worrying. Most of Gaza's population was dependent on United Nations food aid even as the cost of providing that aid was steadily rising because of Israeli import restrictions.
To the north, the thousands of displaced refugees of the Nahr el-Bared camp faced a harsh winter and the massive destruction of livelihoods, education and health facilities had to be addressed. He urged all donors, including regional countries, to contribute to UNRWA activities, both to the Agency's emergency appeals and to its general activities. He also called on Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people, and to refrain from administering punitive measures on the entire population in Gaza.
Egypt's representative said that rapid and sustained efforts from the international community were required to end the current tragedy and that every effort should be made to support UNRWA's mandate until the achievement of a just solution. He further emphasized that the negative implications of Israel's occupation were not limited to the Palestinian refugees, but also burdened UNRWA, which suffered from the impact of the closure and permit systems, as well as other restrictions imposed on movement. Those constraints were imposed on the "pretext" of security concerns, but the prohibitions on UNRWA staff from travelling outside the Gaza Strip and into occupied Jerusalem only increased Palestinian frustration and affected ongoing efforts to achieve peace and security.
The representative of Israel said her country would continue to facilitate UNRWA's work, while at the same addressing its legitimate security concerns. The central report before the Committee –- the Report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA –- conveyed the impression that Israel's actions took place in a security vacuum. Rather, the report would do well to establish the relationship between Israel's ability to provide assistance to UNRWA and the total security situation.
Indeed, she said a stranger reading the report or listening in on yesterday's debate would have been left unaware of the positive developments, such as progress in the West Bank, or of the more negative realities, such as the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Further, it would have seemed from the report's tone and selective use of facts that the responsibility for the precarious situation of the Palestinians rested exclusively on Israel's shoulders.
In contrast, she underlined Israel's commitment to finding a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in the framework of a comprehensive peace agreement. And in the wake of last year's Annapolis conference, significant efforts were being made to find a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians; the Quartet's latest statement had commended that work as being "serious, continuous, meaningful and results-oriented".
Offering details of on-the-ground progress, she said that 111 roadblocks and four central checkpoints had recently been removed in the West Bank, where there had been a 66 per cent increase in the movement of goods. A pilot project in Jenin had been launched to reinforce Palestinian police control and promote economic development to create a freer, more prosperous environment. Four power plants had also been constructed.
Throughout the morning meeting, many speakers emphasized the central role that settling the Palestinian refugees issue played in any final status agreements. Senegal's representative stressed that it went without saying that a lasting solution to the Middle East could not be found without also finding a fair solution to the question of Palestinian refugees.
The representative of India said the lack of definitive progress in the peace process increased frustration on the ground and heightened the situation's volatility, particularly in the context of expanding Israeli settlements and the construction of the separation wall. It was essential for all parties to make greater efforts to abide by their commitments under the Road Map.
In closing remarks, Karen Koning Abuzayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General, said it was gratifying that the Agency's concerns continued to resonate here and in the General Assembly. She expressed appreciation for the political support -- including from Israel -- which the Agency received at United Nations Headquarters. Yet even as attention was focused on the problems of rebuilding the Nahr el-Bared camp, wider consideration should also be given to the financial situation rocking the world community and its potential impact on UNRWA work and the situation of the Palestinian refugees.
Also speaking were representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), United States, Oman, Kuwait, Japan, Bangladesh, Bahrain and Indonesia.
Representatives of Iran and Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 November to take up questions relating to the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to continue its consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), it had before it four documents: Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/63/13), Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/63/375), the report of the Secretary-General on Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/63/315), report of the Secretary-General on Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues (document A/63/269). It also had a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (document A/63/317). (For further details on each of these documents, see Press Release GA/SPD/413 from 29 October).
AVIVA RAZ-SCHECTER ( Israel) commended UNRWA for its contribution to the human development of the Palestinian refugees. Israel would continue to facilitate UNRWA work, while at the same addressing its legitimate security concerns. Her delegation's position was that the report reviewed in the Committee yesterday continued a long tradition of one-sided, unbalanced reports. If a stranger had attended yesterday's meeting, that stranger would have thought there had been no progress between Israel and the Palestinians. They would not been made aware of the positive developments, such as progress in the West Bank, or of the more negative realities, such as the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Further, it would have seemed from the report's tone and selective use of facts that the responsibility for the precarious situation of the Palestinians rested exclusively on Israel's shoulders.
She said that despite that unbalanced charge, Israel was committed to finding a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in the framework of a comprehensive peace agreement. Following last year's Annapolis conference, significant efforts were being made to find a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. That work had been commended by the latest Quartet statement as being "serious, continuous, meaningful and results-oriented".
Israel had recently removed 111 roadblocks and four central checkpoints in the West Bank, she noted. It had also created a pilot project in Jenin to reinforce Palestinian police control and promote economic development to create a freer, more prosperous environment. With the donor countries, it was working to promote several Palestinian industrial parks. It had also constructed four power plants as a joint project between it and the Palestinians. Those were truly benefiting the Palestinians in the West Bank, where there had been a 66 per cent increase in the movement of goods. Israel had also increased the number of work permits for Palestinians.
That progress notwithstanding, there had been a rise in the reach and control of the terrorist group Hamas, which had resulted in a serious deterioration of the situation on the ground, on both sides of the border. Following Israel's 2005 disengagement, Gaza could have been an oasis of peace and stability. Instead, the Hamas terrorist movement had taken it over through brutal methods, and with the support of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's Iran. In the past year, as mentioned in the report, more than 1,150 rockets and more than 1,100 mortars were fired on Israeli towns and villages. Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists had even targeted crossings where vital humanitarian goods entered the Gaza Strip. Since the state of calm began in Gaza in June, Israel had facilitated the entry of goods into Gaza. In September, 2,000 trucks had entered carrying fuel and supplies. However, Hamas had continued to arm itself and openly threatened Israeli soldiers and civilians.
She said the report would do well to establish the relationship between Israel's ability to provide assistance to UNRWA and the security situation. Unfortunately, it conveys the impression that Israel's actions took place in a security vacuum. Israel recognized the Agency's importance, all the while insisting that UNRWA, and any resolution referring to its activities, should confine itself to ensuring that mandate and avoiding any incursion into political arenas. She called on UNRWA to improve its screening methods for its employees. There had already been several instances of UNRWA personnel being involved in terrorist activities this year.
While some Arab countries were genuinely interested in the welfare and humanitarian conditions of Palestinian refugees, many others continued a cynical approach based on double standards in order to bash Israel, she said. As was well known, most Arab countries had failed to contribute to the rebuilding of the Nahr el-Bared camp. They also failed to help mediate a solution to the human tragedy following that camp's destruction during the fighting between Lebanese Armed Forces and the Fatah al-Islam organization. Roughly 91 per cent of the Agency's $57.8 million emergency budget to rebuild that camp came from Western countries, while countries from the Middle East had contributed only a fraction of the total. In terms of the Agency's general budget, UNRWA estimated that only five of more than 20 Arab countries provided funding, amounting to only about 10 per cent of that budget from 2000 to 2007. Those figures reflected the empty promises of certain Arab states that sought to use the Palestinian cause for their own political calculations.
She said that Israel was a democratic State struggling to maintain a balance between the rights and freedoms of its own citizens, whom it was duty-bound to protect, and the rights and freedoms of those who had chosen to use a civilian population as a shield. It had no desire to restrict Palestinians in any way, but it could not afford to hesitate in taking action when its citizens were under threat. Nevertheless, Israel would continue to offer substantial and meaningful contributions to UNRWA and the Palestinian people. Despite the targeting of Israeli citizens at border crossings, it would continue to offer humanitarian assistance -- even if that aid was not always appreciated because of political considerations. As the UNRWA sixtieth anniversary approached next year, it was hoped that there would soon be no need for that Agency's work. But that would only come with the political will. Israel remained committed to forging the path towards a viable Palestinian State living side by side with Israel.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, NICOLAS KASSIANIDES ( France) reiterated full support for UNRWA and gratitude to its staff for courageously carrying out their responsibilities in difficult circumstances. He also expressed appreciation to the Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese authorities for consistently providing aid to Palestinian refugees for more than 50 years. The challenges of rising assistance costs required the adaptation of the Office's operational processes. The organizational development process initiated in 2006 had already facilitated significant progress in terms of human resources and resource management and planning, as well as promoting a results-based culture.
He attached great importance to the work of the Agency's Advisory Committee, and said the European Union was the largest contributor to its budget, amounting to 59 per cent in 2008, as well as large contributions made to the special programmes and emergency calls. Additionally, Finland and Ireland had fulfilled the criteria to become members of the Advisory Commission. The European Union remained concerned about the refugees' economic and humanitarian situation, particularly the situation of children, whose rights must be respected without discrimination of any kind.
The Union was particularly concerned about the "critical situation" in the Gaza Strip, where 8 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty and constant humanitarian assistance was required, he said. The restrictions on movement and access had severe humanitarian consequences in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as limited access to basic services such as health and education, were threatening the economic viability of the Territory. It was vital to strictly adhere to the obligations of international humanitarian law in that regard. The crossings must be reopened in order to facilitate delivery of humanitarian services, as well as the resumption of trade to boost economic development. Reduced fuel and electricity supplied to Gaza also had serious consequences, and while he supported Israel's right to defend itself from unacceptable attacks, he urged all parties, including Israeli, not to deprive Gaza citizens of their basic needs.
The situation on the ground endangered the ability of humanitarian staff, including from UNRWA, to provide basic services, he said, adding that the chronic financial deficit risked reducing the level of security and aid provided by the organization. Attacks had also increased. The number of donors should be increased, in particular in the region, as well as initiatives aimed at reducing the financial deficit. He reaffirmed the Union's commitment to maintain its humanitarian and economic assistance to the Palestinian people at a substantive level, and the PEGASE financing mechanism (European Union mechanism for support to Palestinians), established in February, had allowed more efficient support to the Palestinian authority.
He paid tribute to the work undertaken by UNRWA in Lebanon to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, and noted that those actions had mobilized the donor community and allowed one-third of the displaced persons to return to the area. He invited all donors to remain "at the ready" and honour commitments made during the Vienna Conference in June. He further welcomed the results of the international conference in Annapolis on 27 November 2007 and said the process carried the hope of a sustainable solution, allowing for the establishment of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State, which coexisted in peace and security with Israel and other neighbouring countries.
JONAS JOLLE ( Norway) commended UNRWA and its staff for their untiring efforts in assisting Palestinian refuges under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. While the situation of Palestinian refuges was difficult throughout the region, it was particularly acute for the refugees in the Gaza Strip and among those displaced from the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. As always, UNRWA had to provide a safety net. Norway urged all donors, including regional countries, to contribute to UNRWA activities, both to the Agency's emergency appeals and to its general activities. The thousands of displaced refugees of the Nahr el-Bared camp faced a harsh winter, and the massive destruction of livelihoods, education and health facilities had to be addressed. Norway was responding to the crisis by providing $2 million this year for the camp's reconstruction and for humanitarian assistance.
He said that three years after Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip the social and economic situation remained worrying. Most of Gaza's population were dependent on food aid from UNRWA or the World Food Programme. Meanwhile, the cost of providing food aid was steadily rising because of Israeli import restrictions. Those costs had to be borne by UNRWA and donor countries. While some slight improvement had been seen in the import of goods to Gaza over the summer, as a result of the calm in and around the Gaza Strip, the amount of commercial and humanitarian goods allowed in was still insufficient to meet humanitarian needs or to provide the basic requirements for a viable private sector. Norway called on Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people, and to refrain from administering punitive measures on the entire population in Gaza.
For its part, Norway would continue to be a strong supporter of UNRWA, he said. In its role as chair of the Advisory Commission, it would maintain its focus on the Agency's critical financial situation and the need for increased support. It would also continue efforts to keep the plight of Palestinian refugees on the international agenda.
CHERYL HALPERN ( United States) said her country shared the international community's concerns about the difficult situation facing the Palestinian people. The United States provided almost $600 million in humanitarian and development assistance and $185 million to UNRWA itself. It supported the Agency's mandate to provide education, primary health and social services to more than 4.6 million registered refugees. Those services were a critical stabilizing force in the region. Other nations had shown support for Palestinians, but the sustained support of the international community must be ample and unwavering, and it must increase.
Unfortunately, she said, UNRWA suffered from regular financial shortfalls that inhibited its ability to provide basic services. Children attended crowded schools in double shifts and patients received medical care in dilapidated structures. Particularly urgent was the funding gap UNRWA faced in its effort to assist those displaced from the Nahr el-Bared camp which, despite the international community's assistance, lacked adequate funding and its reconstruction was delayed. That in turn increased instability in Lebanon and impacted regional security in general.
UNRWA was an indispensable partner in the region, and she called upon United Nations Member States to increase contributions to the Agency. As UNRWA neared its sixtieth anniversary, the United States noted the significant steps undertaken by the Agency to improve its efficacy and capacity in light of increased numbers of beneficiaries and related growing costs. As the organizational development plan entered its final phase, the United States looked to UNRWA to mainstream the important reforms into its plans and budgets to ensure their sustainability.
TALAL AL YAQOOBI ( Oman) said the report on UNRWA work shed light on the great difficulties facing the Palestinian people. Saying that the situation of the Palestinian refugees was one of the world's most long-lasting refugee questions, and had been on the United Nations agenda since its beginning, he underlined that their rights had been continuously violated. Indeed, they had no prospects for the right of return. While the number of Palestinian refugees was estimated at nearly 5 million, that figure did not reflect a true figure because not all the refugees were registered with UNRWA. Nevertheless, all of them had the right to return to their land. The activities of the occupying Power had exacerbated the host of difficulties hampering UNRWA work, particularly the restrictions placed on the movement of the Agency's personnel. It was only after Israeli soldiers inspected UNRWA workers that the staff was allowed to cross borders.
Calling the Middle East one of the world's most tense regions, he emphasized that Israel continued to violate international law with its inhumane treatment of Palestinians. He called for all pressure to be brought to bear on Israel to cease its actions against the Palestinian people, which also affected the work of UNRWA. He called on the international community to assist the Agency through all available means and to support the Palestinian people until such time as they were granted their right of return.
HAMAD AL MEKRAD ( Kuwait) emphasized the importance of the question of the Palestinian refugees and UNRWA's responsibility to provide all required services until the problem was settled on the basis of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194. Financial difficulties hindered the agency, and Kuwait hoped that the Agency would nevertheless continue to expand its services in its five areas of operation -– the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In that context, he commended the reform measures and programmes being executed by UNRWA to develop the educational, health and social services it provided to the refugees. Kuwait continued its support of UNRWA through its annual contribution of $1.5 million.
He said that since September of 2000, Israel's oppressive practices had not let up. The Israeli Government pursued coercive policies against the citizens, carried out campaigns of arrests and assassinations, which contradicted even the simplest norms and principles of international legitimacy. Israel justified those unjustifiable policies as necessary to protect its national security and stop the violence. However those policies had led to an increased violence and deterioration in the security situation. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities were hindering the work of UNRWA, which was in violation of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
He expressed total solidarity with the Palestinians and demanded that the Israeli Government comply with the bases and references upon which the peace process was built, namely Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the principle of land for peace. He reiterated thanks to the Commissioner-General and UNRWA staff and hoped the Agency would overcome the difficult financial problems without impacting the level and size of its services.
PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), commending UNRWA and its employees for their dedication, said it sometimes cost their lives to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people. He thanked Jordan, Lebanon and Syria for their hospitality, and their cooperation with UNRWA, and the generous assistance that they provided to the Palestinian refugees. To flesh out the General Assembly's mandate, UNRWA provided a wide array of services to the Palestinian refugees, basing its work on health, education, training, and micro-finance programmes, as well as the running and upkeep of the refugee camps. That work alleviated the physical, moral and psychological suffering caused by the occupying Power, Israel, which continued its ceaseless incursions. Israel also did nothing to facilitate UNRWA work. He called for UNRWA to be able to provide its services until a lasting and just solution might be found to the "thorny problem" of the refugees, all in keeping with the pertinent resolutions of the General Assembly.
He welcomed the quality of the work provided by UNRWA, and he called for all donors to provide predictable funding for the Agency and to show solidarity in meeting the needs of the Palestinian refugees. Despite the difficult climate it faced, UNRWA was working to increase the efficacy of its work through organizational reform and its transformation into a modern institution.
It was deplorable that the Palestinians who had left their homes in 1948 remained refugees from generation to generation -- a situation that he himself had had personally witnessed in the camps, he said. No other group of refugees in modern history were locked in a denial of justice deserving of more international attention. For far too long, those refugees had continued to suffer, in direct contradiction to the humanitarian ideals of the United Nations. It was imperative, therefore, that a solution to that painful problem be found. It went without saying, however, that a lasting solution to the issues could not be found without also finding a fair solution to the question of Palestinian refugees.
KAMAL ELDIN ELSHERBINI ( Egypt) said UNRWA had carried out a leading role in addressing the situation of the Palestinian refugees since al-Nakba, the political and legal responsibility of which was borne by Israel. He emphasized the need to pursue the Agency's role and ensure that all requirements were met to enable it to continue providing basic and social services for the refugees until the achievement of a just solution. The occupation continued to cause deterioration of the precarious humanitarian situation, and the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA had confirmed that Israel practiced "collective punishment", which was internationally prohibited.
He said, however, the negative implications of the occupation were not limited to the Palestinian refugees, but rather extended to burdening UNRWA, which suffered from the impact of the closure and permit systems, and other restrictions imposed on movement. Those actions were inconsistent with the United Nations Charter, the 1946 Geneva Convention, and the 1967 Comay-Michelmore Agreement. He expressed further concern that the occupying authorities were restricting UNRWA personnel on the pretext of security concerns, and prohibited staff from travelling outside the Gaza Strip and banned them from occupied Jerusalem. That increased Palestinian frustration and affected ongoing efforts to achieve peace and security. It also dampened the hope for an agreement on the final status, including the question of refugees, before the end of they year, as agreed at Annapolis.
Continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and the construction of 847 new housing units, was a grave violation of international law, all related United Nations resolutions, Israel's commitments under the Road Map, and the agreements made at Annapolis, he said, denouncing construction of the separation wall. Calling for that to be halted, he said that barrier also violated international agreements. The humanitarian situation required a rapid endeavour from the international community to bring an end to the current tragedy and compel Israel to abide by its obligations, as an occupying Power, under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in the time if war. He called on Member States to support the four UNRWA-related draft resolutions, and on donor countries and institutions to respond to the Agency's emergency appeals.
RAJIV SHUKLA ( India) said the report on UNRWA activities clearly illustrated the severe challenges facing the Agency, several of which directly affected the Palestinian refugees' well-being and the Agency's ability to discharge its humanitarian responsibilities. Noting that those failures had potential consequences for the security and stability of an already volatile region, he said the financial crisis facing UNRWA remained a particularly pressing challenge. Its budgetary shortfall continued to grow and the paucity of funds was paralleled by an increase in demands for assistance. The challenge of rebuilding the Nahr el-Bared camp, while caring in the interim for those displaced, was "one of the largest challenges ever undertaken by UNRWA", and there was an urgent need for greater international efforts to ease the Agency's fiscal burden.
He went on to say that continued access restriction was another major challenge, emphasizing how restrictions on fuel supplies and electricity only increased the humanitarian challenges. The ongoing intra-Palestinian conflict had only intensified the access problem and several previously self-sufficient populations had had to seek assistance for the first time last year. Insecurity, bred by extreme levels of poverty among the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, had been heightened by the lack of definitive progress in the peace process. Hopes were fading that a resolution of the Palestinian question would be found this year and frustration on the ground was mounting. That only increased the situation's volatility, particularly in the context of expanding Israeli settlements and the construction of the separation wall. It was essential for all parties to make greater efforts to abide by their commitments under the Road Map.
He further stressed that the only lasting solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees was a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the long-standing conflict in the Middle East. The ongoing cycle of violence and counter-violence made the prospects of such a solution more remote. The parties to the conflict and the international community -- especially the Quartet -- should redouble their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. Until that solution was found, however, it was incumbent on the international community to fully support UNRWA.
KAZUTO TSURUGA ( Japan), recognizing the current political challenges, said he sincerely hoped the momentum of the past several months would not be lost. Japan fully supported the efforts of the parties, and wished to be actively involved with the international community's contribution to ameliorate the problem. Japan had extended steady efforts to UNRWA since 1953, and as of October 2008, had given $549 million. It attached particular importance to assisting Palestinian refugees based on the belief that participation of Palestinian youth gave more hope for the future. It was important to contribute to the establishment of a Palestinian State and to overall efforts in the region. Some key components of Japan's diplomacy were to protect the security of the Palestinian people, and Japan was very concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. In March, Japan had extended $5.5 million to assist the Nahr el-Bared camp in Lebanon, and had contributed additional food aid in other areas as well.
He said Japan would continue to assist UNRWA, and appreciated the efforts of its staff under strong leadership, to implement the ongoing developmental processes to improve operations. By strengthening its management capacities and making optimal uses of human resources, UNRWA would indeed achieve tangible improvements in the effectiveness of its activities. In conclusion, he said peace in the Middle East could not be found without solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees. Japan remained committed to supporting the activities of UNRWA and hoped the international community would be similarly steadfast.
SHARKE CHAMAN KHAN ( Bangladesh) expressed her delegation's deep appreciation for UNRWA's unflagging efforts to provide assistance and basic needs and services to the 4.6 million registered Palestinian refuges in the Middle East. The international community's repeated appeals to Israel to improve the deteriorating condition of the Palestinians had not seen any development. Bangladesh remained deeply concerned about the degrading and miserable humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. Unabated and intensive Israeli military operations and increased Israeli settlement activities had caused widespread displacement of innocent civilian populations, and Bangladesh strongly condemned the illegal expansion of those settlements, which encroached on Palestinian lands.
She said greater restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNRWA personnel and vehicles in the Occupied Palestinian Territories severely hampered the Agency's humanitarian activities. Israel's imposition of taxes on UNRWA was a clear violation of international law, and Israeli sanctions had led to further deterioration of the socio-economic and living conditions of the Palestinians. The plummeting growth rate over the years bore testimony to that. She urged Israel to remove all restrictions and taxes imposed on the Palestinians and to allow them to continue their economic activities in an unfettered way. Unrestricted mobility and non-interference in UNRWA activities should be ensured. Income generation through the creation of new jobs had been identified as a principled means to ensure the Palestinian people's welfare, and it was gratifying for Bangladesh to observe the success of the Agency's micro-finance programmes. Those programmes should be extended, particularly to poor Palestinian women. She appealed to the international community to come forward with generous contributions commensurate with UNRWA's expanded emergency requirements -- particularly for funding the rehabilitation and emergency assistance programmes for the refugees of the Nahr el-Bared camp.
Supporting the statement made on behalf of the Arab Group, FAISAL AL-ZAYANI ( Bahrain) said the activities of UNRWA had made it possible to modernize its service and planning, particularly with respect to human resources. He paid tribute to the role played by the Commissioner-General and her deputy in the implementation of the reform process leading to a qualitative transformation of UNRWA. With a more strategic approach, the Agency could now better monitor operations and assess the impact of its programmes.
He said the report of the Commissioner-General inter alia shed light on the ongoing deterioration in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and based on the information, the situation was of great concern. There was worsening unemployment and poverty stemming from widespread abuses of human rights. The ongoing humanitarian crisis had been particularly severe since 2000. Contributing to that were the separation wall and related measures, which violated international law and the General Assembly resolution adopted at its tenth special session.
The building of the wall, albeit still incomplete, had had disastrous consequences for agriculture and Palestinian farmers since they were cut off from access to their farming land, he said. It also had serious humanitarian consequences for those Palestinians living in the West bank. The wall's ongoing construction had also impacted the demographic fabric of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as it had resulted in displacements of people. In fact, the Israeli army had displaced the residents between the separation wall and the Green Line, forcing 25 families to move; 180 people had to go to a commercial centre in Gaza. As indicated in various reports, 11 different incidents involving Israeli forces had led to losses and damage of UNRWA infrastructure, including seven schools, in a flagrant violation of the 1967 Colmay-Michelmore agreement.
The working group's report clearly indicated that the prospects for UNRWA funding were extremely grim, he said, adding that the meagre contributions had become critical, creating a funding deficit and impacting the Agency's monetary situation. He commended the Agency for its innovation and management, which made it possible to reduce the impact of the financial challenges. However, throughout the years, the Agency had overcome many difficulties to carry out its noble tasks without being overwhelmed by its financial difficulties. Additional contributions would make it possible to improve the Agency's critical financial situation so that the regular budget shortfalls would not weaken the "rotation" of funds. That would enable UNRWA to carry out its mission and expand its programmes, in keeping with the increase in the number of refugees.
R.M. MARTY NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) commended UNRWA for the results it had been able to produce under often difficult circumstances. For 60 years, the Agency had worked to provide basic services to the Palestinian refugees and improve their situation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Yet, as the report on the Agency noted, there had been very little change in the situation among the refugees. The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian territory remained characterized by high levels of unemployment, poverty and economic decline, as well as the extensive violation of Palestinian rights. The report confirmed the terrible impact of Israel's ongoing construction of the separation wall and its associated impact on the economy. The Israel Defense Force's incursions continued, and closures had increased. It was deplorable that approximately 40 per cent of the West Bank was taken up by settlements, outposts, military bases, military zones and other areas from which Palestinians were excluded. As the Israeli settlers encroached on that land, the Palestinians watched their land claims disintegrate before their eyes.
He said Indonesia was concerned by that harsh situation facing the Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip. The current calm in the region had to result in further relief for the civilian population, including by the regular opening of the crossings for humanitarian and commercial flows. He strongly hoped that stalled United Nations and other donor projects in Gaza would also immediately resume. The report should remind all Member States of the staggering challenges confronting UNRWA and prompt it to respond with greater support.
In closing remarks, KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, UNRWA's Commissioner-General, said it was gratifying that the Agency's concerns continued to resonate here and in the General Assembly. The attention that had been focused on the problems of rebuilding the Nahr el-Bared camp was important. But the financial situation rocking the world community, and its potential impact on UNRWA's work and the situation of the Palestinian refugees, also deserved recognition and response.
She called further attention to the Agreement on Movement and Access, to which all parties had agreed. Noting next year's sixtieth anniversary of the Agency, she said that the ministerial-level event being organized would not be a political platform, but a forum in which to discuss the real situation of the refugees. She underlined the support of UNRWA international donors and also expressed appreciation for the political support -- including from Israel -- which the Agency received at United Nations Headquarters. That support was what allowed the Agency to continue its work.
Rights of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Iran said that today the Committee had heard a number of unsubstantiated allegations against his country by a regime that was based on violence, occupation, State terrorism and bloodshed. Since its inception, the Zionist regime had suffered from a lack of legitimacy, so it was not surprising that its representative would launch such baseless propaganda. He rejected the baseless allegations as a tireless practice to distract the international community from the atrocities committed by the Zionist regime. That regime posed the most real threat facing the world and the region, and should be countered by the international community immediately.
The representative of Syria, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that today an empty, hollow speech had been heard, characterized by a total absence of well-founded legal information. The representative of the occupying Power once again should look at the report that, in truth, criticized Israel, which, in turn, had not ceased to criticize all the institutions of the United Nations concerned with the review of the occupation and the situation of the Palestinians living under occupation.
He said it was ironic that the Committee saw Israel drawing its legitimacy from General Assembly resolution 181, while Israel continued to violate hundreds of other resolutions and criticize humanitarian work. That was entirely against all notions of common sense. The occupying Power's delegation had once again tried to "dress up" the horrible face of the occupation. Democracy, or the "alleged democracy of Israel", was responsible for thousands of Palestinian prisoners. If the definition of democracy should be restoring respect for others, then Israel, with its 11,000 Palestinian prisoners -- among whom were legitimately-elected members of the legislative Palestinian Council -- could not be considered democratic.
This was "a terrorist State" that did not respect the freedom of expression, he said. Reports of the specialized agencies of the United Nations had shown that Palestinian farmers had been subjected to attacks since 1948. The numbers were proof enough of the aggression. The representative of Israel had alleged that the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza was a result of Hamas taking power, but there was no common sense here; that was a "campaign of misinformation". The suffering had begun with the beginning of the occupation, and went against common sense and various United Nations resolutions. Israel continued to occupy the Gaza strip and the six entry points leading to it, and was directly responsible for the humanitarian situation that prevailed throughout. Israel's legitimacy came from resolution 181, but that had been adopted on the condition that the provisions of resolution 194 be respected regarding the return of the Palestinian people.
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