|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON ASSISTANCE TO PALESTINIAN PEOPLE CONCLUDES IN CAIRO
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 11 March -- After two days of a lively and frank exchange of views, the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People concluded its work in Cairo today, with a call on the international community to move from words to practical steps to ensure Israel's compliance with its demands.
The Permanent Observer for Palestine, Riyad Mansour, said it was the responsibility of the Governments to send a signal that Israel's behaviour was not acceptable anymore and to demand an end to its illegal activities. Time had come to force compliance, because Israel could not continue to be a State above international law. That was the task all participants of the Seminar had to take home with them. That would increase the chance that Gaza and the West Bank were not destroyed again.
Now, it was necessary to open the blockade to allow movement of people and goods, he said. That would create an appropriate atmosphere to discuss all outstanding issues. With positive signs from the new Administration in Washington, D.C., a historic opportunity had presented itself. However, it would not produce positive results unless the Palestinians and Arabs on the whole did not put their house in order and regain unity.
Along with those components, those present needed “to do what they have to do -– and then perhaps from the ashes of the war in Gaza we can have a small light of hope”, he said, expressing hope that the promised peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would be concluded. Hopefully, next year, the participants of the Seminar would be discussing different issues.
Summarizing the proceedings of the two-day event, which was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in cooperation with the Government of Egypt, its Chairman, Paul Badji (Senegal), said that the Seminar had examined the recovery and reconstruction needs in the Gaza Strip by assessing the current situation and identifying the most urgent needs. It had also looked at the issue of coordination of international relief and reconstruction efforts.
The participants had presented detailed, often first-hand, accounts of what could only be described as a most alarming state of affairs in the Gaza Strip, he said. Those accounts not only corroborated what the participants had heard from a wide variety of sources, but painted an even grimmer picture of the enormity of the task at hand.
Even under those extremely difficult conditions, humanitarian agencies on the ground were working relentlessly to remedy the effects of the Israeli offensive, he said. He hoped the generous pledges of over $4.5 billion at the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza would enable urgent implementation of the vitally important Palestinian national reconstruction plan in Gaza. It was sad that a large part of the infrastructure and institutions built by donors over the years had been destroyed during the invasion.
He called on all donors to ensure that assistance needs of the Gaza Strip were fully funded. But while emergency assistance and relief by the international community were critical in the immediate aftermath of the destruction, they could not substitute for economic recovery and longer-term development.
In the forward-looking afternoon plenary on “Coordination of international efforts to provide relief and promote reconstruction” that preceded the closing session, participants discussed the role of the United Nations and its system entities, the input of other intergovernmental organizations and key donors, and the contribution of aid organizations and civil society. Several speakers called for more coordinated and targeted efforts to alleviate the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians who had been subjected to Israel's war on Gaza.
Presenting the theme of the Seminar's last plenary was its Chairman, SAVIOUR BORG ( Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. She also introduced the sub-themes of the session, which included the “Role of the United Nations and its system entities”, “Role of intergovernmental organizations and key donors”, and “Role of relief/aid organizations and civil society”.
MOHAMMED KAMAL HASSONEH, Minister for National Economy, Palestinian Authority, Ramallah, said that the international community could play an important part in the efforts to open the crossings, rebuild the housing and infrastructure and achieve a political settlement of the Middle East conflict. It was important to end the impunity for Israel, which was acting as if it was above the law. Many initiatives had been launched recently, and the Palestinian Authority had introduced a national plan for the reconstruction and development of Gaza.
As a Minister of Economy, he envisioned a serious role for the private sector in the efforts to rebuild Gaza, with support from the United Nations and other relevant organizations. Those efforts could benefit from the experience of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in such countries as Lebanon. UNIDO had significant experience in such projects as the recycling of rubble for construction purposes. Last week, the delegation of the Ministry of Economy had met with the representatives of the private sector, with UNIDO participation, in Vienna.
ALI BADARNEH of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization provided details on the rubble recycling programme and presented information on the losses within Gaza's private sector on the basis of a preliminary assessment report, which had been prepared in February. He said that the activities of the handcraft, textile, construction and paper sectors were completely halted, with establishments shut down. Out of more than 2,400 private sector establishments, only 258 from the key sectors in the Gaza Strip were partially operating, employing 1,878 workers. The number of workers in 2006 had been 65,000.
“Thank God for the existence of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People”, said AHMED MAHER, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt. While Israel continued to destroy, the Committee upheld the Palestinians' rights to land, homes and having their own State, with a capital in East Jerusalem. Every time there was an Israeli incursion into the Palestinian Territory, the international community agreed to pay. But while it was important to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, it was time to hold Israel accountable for the damage it inflicted. All the figures presented today were crying for justice. Meanwhile, as an Egyptian, he was grateful to the international community for its assistance, which, he hoped, would continue. Palestinians needed to be protected and shielded from further aggression to be able to rebuild their country as they deserved.
ROSEMARIE WILLEY-AL'SANAH, representative of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Peace in the Middle East, Jerusalem, spoke about the United Nations consolidated appeals process and midterm response plan as a framework for supporting the Palestinian programmes. The appeals process had been recently revised, with part of it presented as a $613-million flash appeal. The midterm plan had been initially developed in 2008 to articulate the Organization's contribution to the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan for both Gaza and the West Bank. It was currently being revised to take into account the events in Gaza and Palestinian programme adjustments. The United Nations Country Team was seeking to shift its focus from direct project implementation to increasing its support to the Palestinian Authority, by providing more technical advice and resources in direct support of the Authority.
She also emphasized the importance of coherence between the two coordination and planning mechanisms, saying that there was no point to have a plan if there was no money to implement it. It was also important for the United Nations to regularly review and monitor the aid and humanitarian work and adapt a coherent and flexible approach. She went on to describe the aid coordination structures with the Palestinian Authority, saying that they were far from perfect, but had proven to be a useful forum for the Palestinian Authority to outline its priorities, consult on its plans and financial resources. Humanitarian coordination took place in such forums as the Humanitarian Task Force. In addition, the United Nations had begun to roll out its global humanitarian cluster approach, in particular during “Operation Cast Lead”.
Early recovery now needed to be closely integrated into the existing aid coordination structure to prevent possible disconnect from the Palestinian Authority's planning and budgeting processes and sector analysis, she added. The Country Team would meet later this month, looking at future areas of collaboration, including expanded joint programming, aligning planning and improving engagement with donors.
MICHAEL RYAN of the European Commission said that the Sharm el-Sheikh Conference had been a clear indication of international support for the reconstruction of Gaza. The Seminar now presented a good opportunity to use the momentum and follow up on the commitments made. The international community was gladly offering its assistance. The European public opinion and leaders were sensitive, however, of the need to pay yet again for the rebuilding of the same facilities.
The European Union had been involved in Gaza and the West Bank for a long time, and its level of support in Gaza was very high, he said. Its assistance was channelled through a single financing mechanism. When it came to donor coordination, the Union worked with the local forum towards reconstruction and development. With existing mechanisms for channelling support into Gaza and the West Bank doing their job, he cautioned against creating new ones, to avoid duplication. Whatever mechanisms or programmes were used, getting access to Gaza was of utmost importance, and the European Commission regularly raised that issue with Israel.
CHARLES CLAYTON, World Vision National Director and Chair of the Association of International Development Agencies in Jerusalem, said that, together, the United Nations and the community of non-governmental organizations created “a whole, greater than the sum of its parts”. Just as the United Nations provided standardization, non-governmental organizations supplied diversity of mission and character; as the United Nations provided size and scale, non-governmental organizations provided specialization; and as the United Nations connected its response to world leaders, non-governmental organizations connected their response to civil society at the grass roots. Those were the strengths that such organizations brought to the coordination effort as recovery and reconstruction in Gaza took place.
Two essential conditions for the effectiveness of non-governmental organization work were neutrality and impartiality, he said. In a context as politicized as Gaza, the non-governmental organizations were under tremendous pressure from a variety of quarters to design their programmes in order to assist one group instead of another, or to advance the policy of one country instead of another. He looked to the United Nations for protection from such pressures. He also looked to United Nations standards to guide those organizations, and to its size and scale to provide a strong example in neutral and impartial programming. He also looked to the United Nations connection to the international community to restrain wrongful influence by any of the parties to the conflict.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, expressed his people's gratitude to the Government of Egypt for conducting three huge events within the span of a week. The first was last week's conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, where money had been pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza. The second was the current Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, which united representatives of dozens of countries, 15 United Nations agencies and many other participants, including representatives of the biggest agency providing help to the Palestinian people, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Its Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd, had given a straightforward assessment of the situation in Gaza and what needed to be done in the field, where her agency was assisting 1.5 million Palestinian refugees.
The third event held in Egypt was taking place on the other side of town, where dozens of Palestinian leaders were meeting to try to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, he continued, stressing the importance of his people being represented by “one sole and legitimate representative”. He hoped the Palestinians would regain the unity of their land, for which they had paid dearly when Palestine proclaimed its independence. He hoped his people would put an end to the division of its land and continue with the struggle against occupation.
All three events in Egypt would help to reconstruct Gaza, he said. At the same time, the tragedy in Gaza should not distract attention from the fact that Palestinians needed assistance in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Turning to the outcome of the Seminar, he said that, first of all, the event had presented an opportunity to see how the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority could improve their efforts to serve their people. It had also allowed various partners, including United Nations agencies, to assess their efforts and look for ways to improve their performance. He thanked everybody who had contributed to the success of all three events.
On many occasions, including the Committee delegation's meeting with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, a question had been raised regarding guarantees that, once Gaza had been reconstructed, Israel would not destroy it again. “We have to reconstruct, even if we cannot guarantee that it won't be destroyed again,” he said. However, it was possible to deter the destruction. It was the responsibility of the Governments participating in the Seminar and other events to send a signal that Israel's behaviour was not acceptable anymore and to demand an end to its illegal activities. A request to stop all settlement activities was actually contained in three consecutive statements of the Quartet, but Israel did not listen. If the international community continued making statements and Israel continued disregarding them, one could not expect results different from the failure one year after Annapolis. It was necessary to evaluate where the failure had occurred and remove the obstacles from the path to success.
It was the duty of all, including the Quartet, to find practical ways to bring Israel into compliance and make it stop all settlement activities and other criminal acts in Jerusalem immediately, he said. There was consensus on that issue, and the time had come to force compliance, because Israel could not continue to be a State above international law. That was the task all Seminar participants had to take home with them. That would increase the chance that Gaza and the West Bank were not destroyed again. A political process based on different criteria was needed. Promises had been made to the Palestinians in the Annapolis process, but those promises had not been fulfilled. The main reason for that was not the Palestinians' failure to meet their obligations, but the fact that Israel not only failed to meet its commitments, but had gone in the opposite direction, having intensified its settlement activities and increased the number of checkpoints. It also had not opened the Palestinian political institutions in Jerusalem or released political prisoners, as it was supposed to.
Now, it was necessary to open the blockade to allow the movement of people and goods, he said. That would create an appropriate atmosphere to discuss all outstanding issues. Also required was the release of political prisoners from Israeli jails. With positive signs from the new Administration in Washington, D.C., a historic opportunity had presented itself. However, it would not produce positive results unless the Palestinians and Arabs on the whole put their house in order and regained unity. Along with those components, those present needed to do what they had to do -– “and then perhaps from the ashes of the war in Gaza we can have a small light of hope”, he said, expressing hope that the promised peace treaty between Israel and Palestine would be concluded, “with the help of all friends and the Obama Administration”. Hopefully, next year, the participants of the Seminar would be discussing different issues.
PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that various views had been expressed in a most fruitful exchange during the Seminar. The reality of the current situation in Gaza, which had recently suffered extensive destruction and violence, was one of poverty, humiliation, deprivation and helplessness. The international community had the duty to redouble its efforts, not only in support of the Palestinian people, but in particular of the people of Gaza, so that they could overcome that adverse situation.
Describing the facts on the ground, he referred to Israel's disregard for the right to life, and the inability of the Palestinian health infrastructure to cope with the massive loss of life and injuries. A major source of alarm was the nature of certain injuries and the type of weapons with which they had been inflicted. It was imperative that grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law were impartially investigated and those directly responsible brought to justice. The Committee reiterated its support for the establishment of the United Nations Board of Inquiry to review and investigate the incidents in which death or injuries had occurred at United Nations facilities during the Gaza offensive. It also looked forward to the results of other investigative missions, such as the one established by the Human Rights Council or the Arab League.
By preventing the provision of basic assistance to those in urgent need, Israel had been neglecting its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population under occupation, he continued. While condemning the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militant groups, the participants had concurred that Israel's response to the actions of a small number of militants had been vastly disproportionate. Collective punishment was prohibited under international law.
Even under those extremely difficult conditions, humanitarian agencies on the ground were working relentlessly to remedy the effects of the Israeli offensive, he said. He hoped the generous pledges of over $4.5 billion at the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza would enable urgent implementation of the vitally important Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan. It was sad that a large part of the infrastructure and institutions built by donors over the years had been destroyed during the invasion. To make things worse, Israel had imposed restrictions on the import of materials to rebuild them. Particularly worrisome was the current level of food dependency in the Gaza Strip.
The participants were appreciative of the efforts by various United Nations agencies and programmes in support of the people of Gaza. He called on all donors to assist those important agencies to ensure that assistance needs of the Gaza Strip were fully funded. While emergency assistance and relief by the international community were critical in the immediate aftermath of the destruction in Gaza, they could not substitute for economic recovery and longer-term development. For that to happen, however, Israel must immediately remove all movement restrictions, in keeping with the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Creating the conditions conducive to reconstruction and development could only be achieved if there was also progress on national reconciliation and significant improvement in the political process. Sustainable development could only come about with the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, living side by side with Israel within secure and recognized borders.
Expressing the Committee's high appreciation to the Government of Egypt for hosting the Seminar, he said that he looked forward to continued cooperation with Egypt in support of the Palestinian people. The Committee was equally appreciative of Egypt's role in facilitating talks on Palestinian national reconciliation and ceasefire in Gaza.
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