10 March 2009
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1115

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON ASSISTANCE

 

TO PALESTINIAN PEOPLE OPENS IN CAIRO

 


Participants Assess Needs in Gaza Strip, Look at Way Forward


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


CAIRO, 10 March -- Against the backdrop of enormous needs in the aftermath of the massive Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People opened in Cairo today with a call for help to bring “some normalcy” to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and put into reality the $4.5 billion in donor support pledged at last week's Sharm el-Sheikh conference.


Those immediate tasks were outlined by Paul Badji ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which organized the two-day Cairo event, in cooperation with the Government of Egypt.  The Seminar seeks to contribute to wider international efforts in support of recovery and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, through assessing the current situation and identifying the most urgent needs.


The participants will also look at the issue of coordinating international efforts.  In the days preceding the Seminar, the delegation of the Committee met with Egyptian Parliamentarians and Government officials and visited the Palestinians wounded in the conflict at the Palestinian hospital in Cairo.


First and foremost, the crossings into Gaza must be opened fully, so that international help could reach those in need, Mr. Badji said.   Israel should not be allowed to hold the entire Gaza population hostage to its political goals.  The Committee also encouraged the Palestinian factions to continue their dialogue towards internal reconciliation.


“In all our deliberations, however, we must not forget that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political solution, first and foremost an end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights,” he said.  It was imperative that international assistance on the economic side would soon be followed by efforts to restart the political process between the parties, leading to serious negotiations on all the outstanding issues that prevented the solution of the question of Palestine.


“We must not allow the events of the past two months to wipe out the progress that had been made towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, in a message delivered by Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  At this difficult moment, he called for a proper and durable ceasefire as soon as possible to allow for a return of calm in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.  A ceasefire should pave the way for the reopening of all Gaza crossings.


Only a permanent negotiated political settlement, which ends the occupation, could provide a sustainable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and lasting security for Israel, the Secretary-General said.  The United Nations would continue to do its part towards realizing the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. 


In her keynote address, Ms. AbuZayd said that, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Seminar provided its participants with an opportunity to inform their discussions from the perspectives of the rights that had been guaranteed to Palestinians by binding international instruments.  The recent experience in Gaza had been a painful reminder of the dire challenge posed to the enjoyment by Palestinians of even inalienable rights that were inherent to every human being and could not be forfeited or repudiated.


She went on to outline the situation in Gaza in the wake of unrestrained bombardment for 22 days, saying that aid dependency in Gaza was at an alarmingly high level.  UNRWA was now feeding 1 million refugees in Gaza.  The World Food Programme (WFP), responsible for non-refugees, had also increased its caseload in response to higher demand.


Zakaria El-Agha, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that no economy could be successful under the restrictions that Palestinians were confronted with, notwithstanding the growing international assistance.  Development could not coexist with hegemony and oppression.  All possible efforts should be exerted to provide assistance and protection to children and civilians under the foreign occupation, so they could restore normal lives and realize a better future for themselves.


In Sharm el-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority had submitted a plan for the reconstruction of Palestine, and he was reassured by the support expressed at that event.  To provide humanitarian assistance, however, all crossings must be opened, and all restrictions on the movement of goods and individuals between Gaza and the West Bank should be removed.  A tangible change in the situation in Gaza was needed, as well as measures to support the national economy and provide stability in Gaza.


Welcoming the participants on behalf of the host country was Abed Rahman Salah, Assistant Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of Egypt.  Hesham Youssef, Chief de Cabinet of the Secretary-General of the Arab League, delivered a statement on the Secretary-General's behalf.


The opening session was followed by statements by representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations and members of the United Nations family, including the representatives of Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Madagascar (on behalf of the African Union), Morocco, Organization of the Islamic Conference and the World Federation of United Nations Associations.


The Seminar is structured around three interactive plenary sessions, the first of which -– on the current situation in the Gaza Strip -- is going to take place this afternoon. 


Opening Statements


Opening the session, PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that the Committee, as well as the international community on the whole, had been deeply shocked by the tragic events in Gaza.  Now that the violent shelling had come to an end and the dust of the rubble of homes and institutions had settled, it was obvious that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be resolved through armed means.


The Committee was encouraged by the generosity of contributions at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference last week, he continued.  He hoped the initiatives by the United Nations and other international and civil society organizations to investigate what had happened on the ground would bring about the truth and lead to a resolution against the “unwise shelling” that had led to systematic destruction of the public infrastructure and private properties in Gaza.  By getting together, the Committee was seeking to complement the efforts of the international community in support of recovery and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, through assessing the current situation and identifying the most urgent needs.  In that regard, special emphasis should be placed on the efforts of non-governmental organizations and civil society, which were seeking to re-establish basic services and improve the situation on the ground. 


The message of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was delivered by KAREN ABUZAYD, Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  The Secretary-General said that recent developments had complicated the political, humanitarian and socio-economic aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  Thousands of Gazans had been killed and injured, dispossessed and displaced in the recent hostilities.  Israelis had also suffered casualties and faced the future with fear and despair. 


“What I witnessed reinforced my conviction that there must be an end to the occupation that began in 1967, and an end to the conflict,” he said, recalling his January visit to Gaza.  “We must not allow the events of the past two months to wipe out the progress that had been made towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”  He called for a proper and durable ceasefire as soon as possible, which should pave the way for the reopening of all Gaza crossings based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.  Security Council resolution 1860 embodied those basic parameters.


Reconstruction and development in Gaza would also require Palestinian reconciliation, he said, strongly urging Palestinians to find unity and common ground.  He commended the efforts of the Egyptian Government acting as a facilitator among the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza.  The support of leaders in the region would be vital to bolstering any future agreements.  He was hopeful that the incoming Israeli Government would honour earlier commitments, engage in political negotiations and conclude a peace accord with the Palestinians.


In the West Bank, Prime Minister Fayyad’s efforts to improve security arrangements -– an obligation under the Road Map –- had borne fruit, he said.  Relative calm had prevailed even during the Gaza crisis.  But Israeli raids continued; checkpoints and curfews were still present; and settlement activity had accelerated, with a 69 per cent increase in new structures in 2008 over the previous year.  Plans for settlement expansion at the expense of Palestinian land were in place.  That went against Israel’s Road Map obligations.  Action to meet those commitments was long overdue.


He welcomed the generosity of donors at last week's International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza, stressing the critical need for contributions in support of the Palestinian Authority’s Gaza Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan to reach those in need as soon as possible.


Only a permanent negotiated political settlement, which ends the occupation, could provide a sustainable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and lasting security for Israel.  The United Nations would continue to do its part towards realizing the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. 


In his formal statement, Mr. BADJI expressed high appreciation to the Government of Egypt for hosting the Seminar and for its crucial role in support of the Palestinian people, citing the donor conference in Sharm el-Sheikh and Egypt's role in the talks for a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian national reconciliation as the embodiment of that country's commitment to regional peace.


While past seminars organized by the Committee had dealt with a wide range of issues, including trade and investment, housing, and capacity- and institution-building, the focus of recent seminars had unfortunately had to shift back to the provision of the most basic needs to the Palestinian people, especially in the aftermath of the massive Israeli military onslaught in the Gaza Strip.  The Committee was troubled that the Israeli invasion was carried out with “a rather scant regard for human life”, in gross contravention of international law and scores of United Nations resolutions.  All those violations must be subjected to international investigations, and those responsible must be held accountable.


He also called for the Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to take decisive action to uphold their obligation under Article 1 “to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”.  The international community should not allow any of its members to act above the law.  The world should also not lose sight of Israel's continued blatant violations in the West Bank, which were overshadowed by the crisis of Gaza. 


The immediate task of the international community was to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza to bring back some normalcy to their lives and to put the generous donor support pledged at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference into reality.  First and foremost, the crossings into Gaza must be opened fully, so that international help could reach those in need.  Israel should not be allowed to hold the entire Gaza population hostage to its political goals.  The Agreement on Movement and Access of 15 November 2005 needed to be put to work.  The Committee also encouraged the Palestinian factions to continue their dialogue towards internal reconciliation. 


“In all our deliberations, however, we must not forget that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political solution, first and foremost an end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights,” he said.  The Committee considered it imperative that international assistance on the economic side would soon be followed by efforts to restart the political process between the parties, leading to serious negotiations on all the outstanding issues that prevented the solution of the question of Palestine.  Sustainable development of the Palestinian economy would only be possible once the occupation had ended and the Palestinian people had become the master of its own destiny.


A personal representative of the President of the Palestinian Authority, ZAKARIA EL-AGHA, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that the increasing burden on the Palestinians and the donor community was the direct result of the intentional policy and illegitimate actions by Israel.   Israel's aggressive policies had led to the retreat in the development in the occupied territories, which was hindered by closures and continued construction of the separation wall.  Now, assistance was needed to address the emergency situation following the recent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip.


No economy could be successful under the restrictions that Palestinians were confronted with, notwithstanding the growing international assistance, he continued.  It was important to change the conditions on the ground and give hope for a better future to the Palestinians.  Practical steps were needed to give them prosperity and freedom.  Development could not coexist with hegemony and oppression.  All possible efforts should be exerted to provide assistance and protection to children and civilians under the foreign occupation, so they could restore normal lives and realize a better future for themselves.


In Sharm el-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority had submitted a plan for the reconstruction of Palestine, he said.  He was reassured by the support expressed at that event.  He expressed great appreciation to the Government of Egypt for hosting the Conference and urged the implementation of the commitments made there.  Those resources would allow the Palestinian authorities to provide help to the people affected by the conflict and to those living in poverty.  To provide humanitarian assistance, however, all crossings must be opened, in compliance with the 2005 Agreement.  All restrictions on the movement of goods and individuals between Gaza and the West Bank should be removed.  Participants of the Sharm el-Sheikh had asked Israel to fully respect international law and refrain from actions that could have a negative effect on the lives of the Palestinians.


A tangible change in the situation in Gaza was needed, as well as measures to support the national economy and provide stability in Gaza, he said.  Fully aware of the importance of achieving unity among the Palestinians, he expressed appreciation for Egypt's facilitation efforts.  At the same time, the international community should ask Israel to take serious steps to halt all settlement activities and stop the construction of the separation wall, as well as appropriation of Palestinian land.  He also emphasized the importance of the implementation of all relevant resolutions and the achievement of the two-State solution.  Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories should stop.


In her keynote address, Ms. ABUZAYD said that the recent experience in Gaza had been a painful reminder of the dire challenge posed to the enjoyment by Palestinians of even inalienable rights that were inherent to every human being and could not be forfeited or repudiated.  In that regard, the human right to self-determination was an essential point of departure.  In the Palestinian context, that right was frustrated by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.  Continuing occupation was the antithesis of a viable Palestinian State existing in peace and security with its neighbours.


“When we consider the closure of Gaza's borders and the misery this causes, I suggest we consider how it reflects on Palestinians' right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as its implications for liberty and security, the right to freedom of movement and the entitlement to a decent standard of living,” she said.  During the recent conflict, the extent of civilian casualties had been evidence of the paucity of respect for the right to life.  Drawing attention to the critical issues of international humanitarian law, she also addressed the right of Palestinian and Israeli civilians to be protected from the effects of armed conflict and the critical need for both sides to exercise restraint, as required by international law, in their choice of methods and weapons.  In that connection, she suggested that the agenda of the Seminar should be approached from the point of view of fundamental rights and freedoms.


She went on to outline the situation in Gaza in the wake of unrestrained bombardment for 22 days, saying that every Gazan now lived with the trauma engendered by the conflict.  Aid dependency in Gaza was at an alarmingly high level.  UNRWA was now feeding 1 million refugees in Gaza.  The World Food Programme, responsible for non-refugees, had also increased its caseload in response to higher demand.  The fundamental impediment to normal life in Gaza remained the closure of the borders.


In response to appeals by United Nations agencies and the international community, Israeli authorities had promised that the blockade of Gaza would be eased, she said, but those promises were yet to be fulfilled.  Israeli authorities decreed what and how much would be allowed into Gaza.  They also decided what items did not present a risk to Israel's security and therefore qualified as humanitarian aid.  In light of UNRWA's experience thus far, it was difficult to say that rational or genuine humanitarian considerations –- let alone Israel's international obligations -– influenced the decisions about Gaza's border closures.


Turning to the steps towards the recovery of Gaza, she said that there was a clear path for action by United Nations agencies and other partners.  UNRWA was drawing from its experience in coordinating with donors and other partners to tackle the challenges ahead.  A nine-month consolidated Gaza Flash Appeal for $613 million had been issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); and other agencies were requesting $287 million.  UNRWA's component of the Flash Appeal stood at $326 million.


She went on to describe the plans to construct new schools and a teacher training college, rebuild the homes destroyed during the conflict, construct new clinics and rebuild existing ones, saying that those plans would become a reality for Gazans only if significant contributions already received were sustained and augmented by the donor community.  Another essential precondition for the recovery and reconstruction related to free and secure two-way flow of people, commerce, currency and humanitarian supplies.  Ultimately, however, the future of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, as well as security of Israel and the Middle East, rested with the success of negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.


She called on the international community to promote reconciliation among Palestinians and secure the integrity of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The rule of international law must be upheld and impartially enforced, ensuring that all were held accountable and none were deemed above the law.  Negotiations towards resolving all final status issues must resume in earnest, and it was important to create conditions in which a viable Palestinian State could emerge to take its place in the community of independent, responsible nations.


Speaking on behalf of the host country, ABED RAHMAN SALAH, Assistant Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of Egypt, welcomed the participants and said that Egypt had condemned the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip from the very start.  His country was continuing its incessant efforts to maintain the ceasefire as part of the comprehensive strategy to promote peace and stability in the region.  Since the very first days of Israel's aggression, Egypt had been carrying a large-scale programme of humanitarian assistance, and the crossings on its border were being used for the delivery of assistance to Gaza.  The country had provided over 10,000 tons of supplies to Gaza, and more than 800 injured were being treated in the Egyptian hospitals.   Egypt had also hosted the International Conference in support of the reconstruction of Gaza last week, where pledges had surpassed $4.5 billion.


Gaza was an integral part of the Palestinian Territory, which was subjected to Israeli colonialism, he continued.   Israel was still in control of the area and controlled the movement of goods to Gaza.  It was necessary to open all the crossings on an unconditional basis.  Blocking access for humanitarian needs represented collective punishment in violation of international law.  The international community should pressure Israel to stop all settlement activities in the occupied territories.  Preconditions for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian State included building of confidence, opening the crossings and continued dialogue between the two sides.  Legitimate Palestinian authorities should be able to rebuild the economy.


Egypt believed that peace could never be attained within the situation of conflict between Palestinian factions, he added.  For that reason, it had intervened in an effort to facilitate the reconciliation among the factions.  He called upon the international community to bear its responsibilities in the implementation of international law, to put an end to the instability and conflict in the Middle East.  The Arab stand was still manifested in the Arab Peace Initiative, with which Israel must collaborate.


HESHAM YOUSSEF, Chief de Cabinet of the Secretary-General of the Arab League, delivered a statement by the Secretary-General of that organization, expressing appreciation of the important role of the Committee in implementing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  The Seminar was taking place in the aftermath of the aggression against the Palestinians, which had caused numerous deaths and injuries and the destruction of the infrastructure.  Not satisfied with that, Israel continued its closure policies, hindering the provision of humanitarian aid.   Israel was treated as a State above the law, and it was time to put an end to its immunity.  The Arab League would continue to pursue the issue of Israel's crimes.  He welcomed the organization of the International Conference in support of reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, but it was time to stop the vicious circle of destruction and reconstruction.


Israel had hampered all the efforts to achieve peace, because it was not ready to put an end to its occupation or provide any concessions, he continued.  It should be clear to everybody that there was no room to resume negotiations as long as Israel's settlements were being constructed and efforts to change the composition of Jerusalem continued.  One of the parties had not responded to the Arab Peace Initiative seriously, although it was supported worldwide.  In that connection, he expressed hope that the new United States Administration could play a positive role.  He also spoke about the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers on 3 March, which had reaffirmed the Arab Initiative, but pointed out that it would not remain on the table for long.  Everything depended on Israel's readiness to implement its commitments.  The situation in the occupied territories constituted a serious threat for the peace and stability in the whole region.


He also noted additional challenges as a result of the setting up of a new rightist Government in Israel, which did not believe in the two-State solution and opposed the end of occupation.  At the same time, he hoped that a unified Palestinian Government would be set up and that Palestinian elections could be held, stopping Israel from claiming that there was division among the Palestinians.  He welcomed Egypt's efforts to bring about reconciliation, so reconstruction could be achieved successfully.


Statements


Cuba's representative, Vice-President of the Seminar, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for the intensification of international efforts, in particular by the Security Council and the Quartet, to ameliorate the situation on the ground and help advance the peace process that would guarantee the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within a specified timeframe.  The Movement was concerned at the continued deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a result of continued illegal policies and practices of Israel, which brought additional suffering and deprivation to the Palestinian people.


Continuing, he commended the role of UNRWA and reiterated the Non-Aligned Movement’s condemnation of the brutal Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.  The Movement would continue to call on Israel to open all crossings for free movement of people and goods, including humanitarian supplies.  He also emphasized the responsibility of the United Nations, including the Security Council with regard to the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.  The Council had once again failed to act effectively on the matter, and the Bureau of the Movement had issued a statement deeply regretting its unmet responsibilities.


The representative of Morocco stressed the importance of the Seminar as part of the efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in the aftermath of the latest conflict.  He welcomed the outcome of the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, which reflected continued support of the international community to the Palestinians.  His Government had pledged $15 million to the Palestinian people and was keen on supporting the peace process.   Morocco would follow the Arab Peace Initiative, the Road Map and all other agreements leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State living side by side with Israel.  A fund had been established in Morocco to collect donations in support for the Palestinian people.


The representative of the African Union stressed the need to respond without further delay to the humanitarian crisis and reconstruction needs in the Gaza Strip.  The African Union commended the initiative to organize the Seminar.  By its decision in January 2009, the Executive Council of the Union had strongly condemned the barbaric attacks launched by the Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip and urged the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop all settlement activities in the occupied territories, remove the apartheid separation wall and comply with United Nations resolutions in that regard.  The Union demanded the removal of closures and blockades without delay, as well as the opening of all crossing points.  It also firmly denounced Israel's repressive practices and policies.   Israel must permit unobstructed supply of food and supplies to the Strip.


The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference emphasized the importance of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and condemned the invasion, which had led to the deaths of over 1,300 civilians.  The closures made the provision of humanitarian assistance very difficult.   Israel's aggression should be considered as a war crime.  Crimes and violations of humanitarian law required a follow-up to have the criminals receive a just punishment.  He also called for financial and relief support to the Gaza Strip and stressed the need to accelerate the delivery of pledges made at Sharm el-Sheikh.  The failure to effectively address the violations had a negative effect on the situation in the region, and he hoped that the new United States Administration would build on what had been achieved in the existing instruments to achieve peace in the Middle East, put an end to the occupation and achieve a two-State solution.


The representative of the World Federation of United Nations Associations said that continued Israeli occupation was the cornerstone of the situation in the Middle East.  It was important to confront the aggressor to prevent further aggression and violations of international law.  It was important to stop the inhumane behaviour against the Palestinian people, who had a right to resist and fight against the occupation.  To move towards peace, it was important to create a climate that would be conducive to building confidence.  The role of the United Nations was very important in that regard.


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