|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
NEXUS BETWEEN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, STATEHOOD IS FOCUS OF UNITED NATIONS
SEMINAR ON ASSISTANCE TO PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
Secretary-General Says Only Permanent Political Settlement
Can Alter Economic, Humanitarian Problems of Palestinian People
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
AMMAN, 19 February -- Only a permanent political settlement, which ended the occupation and gave Palestinians their independence, could fundamentally alter the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and bring lasting security for Israel, the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People was told today, in an opening message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Secretary-General acknowledged in his remarks to the two-day gathering in Amman of internationally-renowned experts, which included Israelis and Palestinians, members and observers of United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, parliamentarians, civil society and the media, that the harsh realities on the ground, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, understandably gave rise to scepticism among many about the possibilities for peace.
The situation in Gaza was unsustainable in humanitarian, human rights, security and political terms -- for the Palestinians, Egypt, and Israel, too, Mr. Ban said, in a message that was delivered by Robert H. Serry, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.
The Secretary-General deplored the all-too-frequent breaches of international humanitarian law -- including rocket attacks against civilians, excessive use of force in civilian areas, and collective punishment of civilians. It was vital that Israel ceased actions of collective punishment, and allowed all necessary humanitarian and commercial supplies to reach the population. He urged everyone to work towards resumption of normal economic life for the people of Gaza, including the reopening of crossings.
Key ingredients for a breakthrough existed, he felt, noting that the leadership of both sides had launched bilateral negotiations to resolve all core issues and achieve a permanent settlement. The Palestinian Authority had taken important security measures on the ground, while donors have pledged more than $7 billion to assist. “With the right mixture of wisdom, realism and political courage -- including a major intensification of efforts in the months ahead -- we can make historic progress towards the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he said.
Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji, said that, while the parties had reaffirmed their commitment at Annapolis to implement the “Road Map” and to resume negotiations, the Committee was alarmed that, at the moment, that might be “wasted” if those obligations were not met. The high price for such a loss must be avoided, and everyone had a stake in that. Only when the living conditions of the Palestinian population began to show signs of appreciable improvement and a foundation for economic recovery and long-term development was laid could the political process produce the desired results.
No State could be built without a solid economic link, the Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Acting Foreign Minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh, asserted. A quick glance at the situation in the Occupied Territory -- from an ailing infrastructure to the complete absence of job opportunities to a lack of industry -- made everyone even more committed to support the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, so that the socio-economic problems of the political equation could be remedied and the political process could bear fruit.
He stressed that the peace process rekindled in Annapolis last November, and supported at the Paris Donors’ Conference, must be kept on track and be allowed to gain momentum, in order to arrive at their destination within the prescribed timetable. “We have a real second chance here,” he said.
The Annapolis conference, noted the Minister for Planning of the Palestinian Authority and representative of Palestine, Samir Abdullah, had put the Palestinian issue front and centre, and reactivated the effort to obtain more donor support. It had been a turning point, and confidence had been expressed in the Palestinian Authority, with pledges totalling $7.7 billion.
That support was a good opportunity, but it was also a responsibility, which the Palestinian Authority would live up to by reforming its institutions, regaining confidence of investors, ending unemployment and poverty, reducing budgetary deficits and financing development programmes, he said.
Participating in the discussion that followed the opening remarks were the representatives of Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, Kuwait and Pakistan. Representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States also contributed.
In brief opening remarks, Mr. BADJI, Committee Chairman, said that the Seminar was being held at a crucial moment for the Palestinian people and the history of peace in the Middle East. Indeed, it was a difficult time for the Palestinian people, which, during the last few months, had experienced gravely deteriorating conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. More than half lived in poverty, and their humanitarian needs were enormous, particularly because of the closure of Gaza, imposed by Israeli military forces. In that context, the international community’s support was more indispensable than ever, not only to come to the aid of the Palestinian people, but also to support the political process and to lay solid foundations for a future Palestinian State.
Mr. JUDEH, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, Acting Foreign Minister of Jordan, said he saw a distinct effort to step up ideas to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people and support them in their national economy as a basic pillar of the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. He commended the Committee’s tireless efforts. The catastrophic conditions in Gaza recently, and the concomitant suffering leading to more miserable daily socio-economic conditions, presented a flagrant challenge to international humanitarian law and a violation of the simplest human rights. No economic growth could flourish under the present conditions.
He said that extremism would lead to more suffering, and he pressed for concentrated efforts to end the violence. There was a new opportunity now to reach a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian question, and that chance should be seized and augmented. He renewed his support of the Palestinian Authority, especially its plan for reform of its institutions, and called on the international community to support that effort, with a view to financing it. Jordan would spare no effort in that regard. Finally, the peace process rekindled in Annapolis must be kept on track and gain momentum; it must be supported, in order to arrive at its destination within the prescribed timetable. “We have a real second chance here,” he said.
Message by Secretary-General
Mr. SERRY, speaking on the Secretary-General’s behalf, said that the meeting was taking place in the early months of a very important year for the Palestinian people and their long-denied legitimate aspirations for a viable, independent, sovereign, democratic State of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, based on an end of the occupation that began in 1967.
He said that the key ingredients for a breakthrough existed. President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had launched bilateral negotiations in order to resolve all core issues and achieve a permanent agenda and taken important security measures on the ground, while donors have pledged more than $7 billion to assist. A range of envoys, including Quartet Representative Tony Blair have been deployed to ensure that tangible progress was made in implementing Road Map commitments, improving security conditions for both Palestinians and Israelis, and reviving the Palestinian economy.
Yet the harsh realities on the ground, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, gave rise to understandable scepticism among many about the possibilities of peace, he acknowledged. The months ahead must see those realities improve, together with progress in the political negotiations. On that, all Quartet members were united, and there was a determination also to work closely with the countries of the region, based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
In the West Bank, he said, the Palestinian Authority’s reform and security efforts had provided a basis for moving forward, but much more now needed to be done. He reiterated the United Nations position on the illegality of settlement activity anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Road Map required a freeze on all settlement activity, as well as the reopening of institutions in East Jerusalem. He called for immediate steps to meet those obligations.
He also reiterated the importance of further Palestinian Authority efforts on security, building on the steps already taken in Nablus and other West Bank cities. In that context, the case for urgent steps to ease closures in the West Bank, in accordance with existing agreements, was clear. That must happen if the Palestinian economy was to revive, and if donor assistance was to produce long-term results. He also reiterated that the continued construction of the barrier on Occupied Palestinian Territory was contrary to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and that, as Secretary-General, he would continue to work for implementation of that opinion.
The current situation in Gaza was unsustainable in humanitarian, human rights, security and political terms -- for the Palestinians, Egypt, and Israel, too. The ongoing crisis in Gaza also undermined the Annapolis process. He deplored the all-too-frequent breaches of international humanitarian law -- including rocket attacks against civilians, excessive use of force in civilian areas, and collective punishment of the civilian population. It was vital that Israel ceased actions of collective punishment, and allowed all legitimate and necessary humanitarian and commercial supplies to reach the population.
He urged everyone to work towards resumption of normal economic life for the people of Gaza, including by supporting a resumption of stalled United Nations and other projects in Gaza, and the reopening of crossings as envisaged in the Agreement on Movement and Access. He particularly welcomed the initiative of the Palestinian Authority to resume control of crossings, and the efforts of Egypt to find workable solutions. That must include an end to rocket attacks, as well as incursions into Gaza, since solutions were unlikely to be sustainable without an atmosphere of calm on the ground.
The many United Nations agencies on the ground would carry on with their important work, he said, urging the international community to heed the Consolidated Appeal launched recently by the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. He renewed his call on all donors to invest generously and step up their efforts at supporting Palestinian economic development and capacity-building. He reminded all parties that international law must be the basis for their actions on the ground, and for any sustainable solution.
Only a permanent political settlement, which ended the occupation and gave Palestinians their independence, could fundamentally alter the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and bring lasting security for Israel. “With the right mixture of wisdom, realism and political courage -- including a major intensification of efforts in the months ahead -- we can make historic progress towards the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he concluded.
Additional Opening Statements
Adding to his earlier remarks, Mr. BADJI said that, in organizing today’s gathering, the Committee had tried to benefit from “the momentum” created by Annapolis and the Donors’ Conference in Paris, and support initiatives aimed at mobilizing international assistance in support of Palestinians. The Seminar must provide an opportunity to assess the enormous social and economic and humanitarian needs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and provide an occasion to examine action by the United Nations and at the international and regional level, in order to respond to Palestinian needs, in the immediate and long-term, to ensure revival of the Palestinian economy.
Unfortunately, he said, the focus of recent Seminars must shift back to the provision of the most basic needs of the Palestinian people. The closures and restrictions in the Occupied Territory exacerbated the living conditions, particularly in Gaza. Recent figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicated that 57 per cent of Palestinian households were living in poverty, with about 49 per cent in the West Bank and 79 per cent in the Gaza Strip. With Gaza’s total closure, only limited commercial goods and humanitarian supplies were allowed into the Territory, compounding the crisis.
Few people, even those in need of immediate medical attention, could exit Gaza, he continued. The Committee reiterated that Israel, as the occupying Power, was obliged under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to protect civilians under its occupation and was responsible for providing basic services, such as food and medicines, and ensure the population’s overall welfare. The Committee was seriously disturbed by the recent ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice in January to uphold the Government’s decision of September 2007 to reduce electrical and fuel supply to Gaza, which was tantamount to collective punishment.
On the Committee’s behalf, he condemned the killing of innocent civilians on both sides, including Israeli military operations and the firing of rockets from Gaza. It also considered it totally unacceptable and unjust that the entire civilian population of Gaza was subjected to a suffocating blockade for the actions of a few militant groups.
He said that the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while overshadowed by the crisis in Gaza, was also a cause for great alarm. According to OCHA, there were more than 500 obstacles, including military checkpoints, and their number had actually increased during the past year. Many farms had no access to their own land, and going to shops and schools in neighbouring villages was extremely difficult.
The obstacles, ostensibly created for security, were preventing foods and other basic commodities, including medicines and humanitarian aid, from reaching desperate civilians, he said. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations were tirelessly seeking to contain the crisis, but increased emergency assistance was urgently needed. Meanwhile, everyone knew that dependence on assistance must shift to self-sustainable recovery and development, but that required free movement and access, which was non-existent in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
While the Committee welcomed the substantial pledged made at the Paris Donors’ Conference, the aims of those moves could only be achieved if Israel took serious steps to eliminate the closures, whose damage far outweighed the positive effect of donor contributions and were only sustainable once the occupation ended. Meanwhile, new housing units and settlements continued to be built, the so-called illegal outposts remained untouched, and the wall’s construction continued, cutting deep into Palestinian Territory -- confiscating property, farmland and water sources and isolating Palestinian villages and towns.
Mr.ABDULLAH, Planning Minister for the Palestinian Authority said that the United Nations was an important safety net for the Palestinian people. Its role in the Occupied Territory was not limited to providing humanitarian assistance, but also in building institutions. Of course, the United Nations also provided “good safety” against Israeli aggression. He spoke about the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to address the “brain drain”, but said that those and similar efforts to rebuild were impeded by Hamas and its “current violent policy”. The Authority also sought diplomatic efforts to “stop the killings and devastation” by the Israeli authorities and put forth its initiative to open the crossings. That initiative had regional and international support, but it was challenged by Hamas.
At the political level, he felt that Palestinian diplomacy had been activated at Annapolis, as reflected in international support for its initiative, despite attempts by Israel to frustrate preparations for that conference and prevent it from reaching a good outcome. Among other things, the conference had ensured that the Palestinian question be the focus of international attention, including in the development and economic spheres. Attempts had been made to garner further support in Paris, which had been a turning point for the Palestinian Authority. The support, totalling pledges in the amount of $7.7 billion, had reflected the international community’s confidence in the Authority; it was both an opportunity and a responsibility, which the Authority would live up to.
Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba’s representative said he remained concerned at the critical situation on the ground and at the “indiscriminate and excessive” use of force by Israel. The Movement continued to uphold the cause of the Palestinians and the urgent need to end the prolonged Israeli occupation of all Arab territories occupied since 1967. It was also concerned about the continued deterioration of the political, social and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and, in many forums, had strongly condemned Israel for its deliberate and illegal policies and practices in modifying the composition of Palestinian land.
He also condemned the recent attacks against civilians in Gaza, calling the appalling humanitarian situation there “collective punishment under cruel occupation”. He called on Israel to open all crossings there, and welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s proposal to assume responsibility for the crossings. It was no secret that Israel’s “unpunished” actions were due “greatly” to the protection given it in the Security Council and other forums, including in 31 vetoes related to the Palestinian question. In fact, despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza since January, the Council had once again failed to act. The Council’s impasse under the current circumstances was unjustified, and he urged it to act without delay. It was paramount now that international humanitarian assistant to the Palestinian people become a reality.
Another speaker in the discussion, the Director of the Division of Occupied Arab Territories of the League of Arab States, said that the humanitarian catastrophe of the Palestinian people would not be confined to Occupied Palestinian Territory, but spill over to the whole region and constitute a new and serious threat to international peace and security. She called on Israel to open the crossings in Gaza and on all in the international and Arab communities to provide the necessary assistance to the Palestinian people. She pointed out that, only one week after Annapolis, Israel had announced the building of more housing units in the West Bank, in flagrant violation of the pledges it had given at that conference. That had destroyed the confidence needed for the resumption of permanent status negotiations and raised doubts about Israel’s intentions.
A representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference warned that the meeting was being held under “very dangerous” conditions, as a result of the Israeli blockade in Gaza. The international community should press Israel to stop its aggression and implement its commitments under the Road Map. It should remove impediments to the Palestinians’ ability to build a national economy in preparation for their establishment of an independent State. He urged Member States, the private and non-governmental sectors to provide all possible support to the Palestinian Authority; his organization would contribute all possible funds.
The representatives of United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Kuwait detailed the assistance -- technical, financial and otherwise -- they had given in support of the Palestinian people.
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For information media • not an official record