2 November 2010
General Assembly
GA/SPD/468

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

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

20th Meeting (PM)


Severe Financial Shortages, Persistent Blockade of Gaza Strip Hamper Ability


of Palestinian Relief Agency to Assist World’s Oldest Refugee Population

 


Israel Says Civilian Goods Enter Enclave Despite Terrorist Attacks; Supports

Humanitarian Mission, But Says UN Agency Sometimes Ventures into Political Terrain


Facing chronic financial shortfalls and the persistent blockade of the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would continue to struggle to meet its mandate to provide basic services without a significant infusion of donor supply across all fields of operations and a further easing of border closures around the constricted enclave, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told as it concluded its general debate on the work of that Agency this afternoon.


The representative of the United States said that 75 per cent of Palestinian schoolchildren in UNRWA schools attended classes in shifts, sitting three to a desk, for classes that met for half the normal time.  In Gaza, 139,000 children were eligible for an UNRWA education, but could not receive one because the Agency lacked the necessary facilities.


The largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, the United States had contributed more than $237 million dollars in fiscal year 2010, that country’s representative said.  The United States had provided more than $1.5 billion to the Palestinian people since 2008, including $650 million to help the Palestinian Authority create the institutions and economy necessary for statehood, including essential infrastructure, rehabilitating schools and health clinics, advancing the rule of law, and supporting private sector development.  Still, the United States was concerned about UNRWA’s ability to provide crucial assistance amid the shortfalls.


The Relief Agency helped to foster stability and order in the region, and represented the human development of Palestinian refugees, that representative said.  The focus on humanitarian issues, impartiality and neutrality, were critically important to fulfilling the Agency’s mandate.


Several delegations pointed to the extreme hardship Palestinians continued to face as a result of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.  Regarding the flotilla incident, Cuba’s representative said the blockade was “genocidal”, and called for its immediate lifting.  Many delegations also questioned the types of goods that the blockade prohibited, with Libya’s representative stressing that “bombs were not made of bread, and rockets were not made of baby formula”.


Israel’s representative said, however, that Israel was cooperating with UNRWA and other international organizations to ensure that humanitarian relief reached Palestinians populations in need by liberalizing the system through which civilians goods entered the area, “despite continued terrorist attacks”.


Since that decision, he said the number of trucks entering Gaza had doubled to approximately 250 per day, delivering more than 365,000 tons of aid, including 25 million litres of fuel and 14,000 tons of cooking gas to the Gaza Strip since 17 June.  However, the ability to extend the opening of the Karni Crossing on more days had been limited by continued threats and terrorist attacks, since that crossing had been attacked by Palestinian terrorists many times.


Over the past four months, he said that Israel had approved 31 new international development projects in the Gaza Strip, including 12 UNRWA projects, but logistical arrangements had created some delays in the delivery of building materials.  However, he said there had been unfortunate instances in which UNRWA officials had acted contrary to the Agency’s humanitarian mission by making controversial political statements.  Those forays into political terrain could not be considered to be part of a legitimate advocacy role as they undermined the Agency’s neutrality and harmed its humanitarian mission.


India’s representative took note of new measures towards easing the movement of goods to Gaza, but stressed that more relaxation on the movement of reconstruction material was needed.  The continued levy of fees and charges for the transit of humanitarian goods was also unacceptable, as that seriously affected the working of the already cash-strapped UNRWA.  Agency staff detention and lack of information about that staff was also a matter of serious concern.


Given the political context in which the Agency had been operating for more than 60 years, delegations drew attention to recent developments.  Indonesia’s representative, for example, noted that the debate about UNRWA was being held following Israel’s failure to extend the moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank.  He said that the settlement issue remained the biggest obstruction to peace.  Calling for Israel to stop all settlement activities, he said Israel’s attempts at altering the demographic composition of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem was a “blatant violation” of international law.


South Africa’s representative said that, in the absence of a long-term political solution in the region, which was to be found only in the full realization of the legitimate and inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, the role of the Agency remained “indispensable”.


Commending the commitment of UNRWA’s personnel, Senegal’s representative said that “justice delayed was justice denied” when it came to the plight of the refugees, who, after six decades, continued to suffer humiliation.  The noble activities of UNRWA in education, health-care, aid and microfinance, were ineffective in light of the violence, oppression and blockade.


He further said that UNRWA’s deficit was due to a lack of political will, and appealed to all donors to show solidarity and to ensure regular financing to UNRWA programming.  There was no doubt that solidarity helped remedy the situation of UNRWA, to the benefit of refugees.  What was urgent though, was settling the overall question of Palestine, including the rights of refugees, through a sovereign Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with Israel.


Also speaking during the general debate were the representatives of Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Venezuela, Switzerland, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Turkey, Japan, Oman, Brazil, Lebanon, China, and the Holy See.


After the debate, Filippo Grandi, UNRWA Commissioner-General, made closing remarks.


The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., on Friday, 5 November, to begin consideration of agenda item 54, “Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories”.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).


Statements


SAUL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica) said that throughout six decades, UNRWA had been maintaining stability in the region, and thus, he reiterated support for the Agency in providing support to refugees, drawing attention to the need for sufficient resources for its unhampered operation.  He respected neutrality and the independence of humanitarian assistance, which were the principles of international humanitarian work.  Palestine should receive assistance free of impediments and with timely access, he said, noting that humanitarian aid suffered problems linked to the armed conflict between Hamas and the Israeli army.  He called for an efficient flow of assistance, in accordance with agreements.


Noting that UNRWA had contributed to human development, he encouraged the international community to provide resources and help foster the culture of peace.  UNRWA was one of the greatest agencies of the United Nations system, however, its current financial situation was a source of concern.  He looked to the report of the Secretary-General, which drew attention to the need to establish the Agency’s financial security, and he reiterated his country’s support for extending the mandate of the Agency for its humanitarian work and human development activities.


ABDUL RAHEIM AL-FALAHI (United Arab Emirates), thanking UNRWA for its work, said that his country was concerned about the very bad economic and social situation of the Palestinian refugees, especially in Gaza under siege, as well as in neighbouring countries, as the result of the continued occupation by the Israeli Government.  The occupation included excessive violence and extrajudicial killing, in addition to collective punishment, such as curfews and closures of villages, cities and camps.  He also pointed to construction of the separation wall and control of the water sources that led to the displacement of many other Palestinians, and the closing of schools and businesses.  All of that had a crushing effect on the Palestinians, and pushed them into poverty.


He said that those violations and constraints, not only targeted the Palestinian refugees, but also extended to the infrastructure of UNRWA in Gaza and the West Bank, leading to the destruction of many buildings and programmes for the refugees.  The United Arab Emirates was deeply concerned by the continued closure by Israel of the crossings, which was against all legitimacy, and he called for more efforts to pressure Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, re-starting all projects, providing protection to the Palestinian refugees, and stopping those Israeli practices that led to the displacement of many Palestinians.  He also called for security of UNRWA staff, under the terms of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Comay-Michelmore Agreement, and the relevant General Assembly resolutions.


The refugee problem was part and parcel of the Palestinian question, and those points should not be divided.  Any just and permanent settlement should include the right of return to their homes and compensate for their moral and financial losses, based on the relevant General Assembly resolutions, especially resolutions 181 and 194.  In conclusion, he said that voluntary contributions alone by donor countries negatively affected implementation of UNRWA’s projects, including humanitarian and emergency programmes for refugees.  The United Arab Emirates had increased its support to UNRWA and would continue its political and material support to the Agency, both directly and indirectly.  Such support was necessary in order for UNRWA to be able to meet the needs of the Palestinians, whether inside the Territory or where UNRWA worked in the host countries.


REBECA HERNÁNDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) said that UNRWA worked to relieve the terrible living situation.  It was unjustifiable that the Palestinians were still being denied their basic human rights, and she noted the tragic decline of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The situation in Gaza Strip was alarming, following the December 2008 war, and refugees in particular were in a vulnerable position.  Regarding the flotilla incident, Cuba called on the Israeli authorities to lift immediately, the “genocidal blockade”.  But Israeli severely restricted movement, closing border crossings, thereby preventing food and medicine, and building supplies from entering the enclave.  Among other things, that prevented schools from being rebuilt.


She urged Israelis to reverse its policy of border closures.  Cuba also condemned the aggressive policies that ignored the United Nations resolutions. Israelis continued to impose a tax on UNRWA.  The Agency’s financial situation threatened institutional development and aid.  Cuba urged donors to fulfil their promises to make voluntary contributions, and said her country would maintain its support of Palestinians in their inalienable right to self determination.


MUBARAK AL-KHALIFA ( Qatar) said that UNRWA’s noble efforts to relieve the plight of the Palestinians would go astray due to the blockade.  That had led to a deterioration of the refugee’s situation, which was on the verge of economic collapse.  Given the restrictions on movement and the number of refugees registered with the Agency, the resources were simply insufficient.  The international community had a financial responsibility to upgrade the level of services for those who would benefit from the projects including emergency assistance.  He called on donors to provide support.  The plight of the refugees continued, as did the denial of their inalienable rights.  The services of UNRWA represented the minimum that the refugees should have, including the right to education and health.  The refugee issue affected the stability of the region of a whole.  A just settlement needed a viable State and the right of return of refugees.


GILAD COHEN (Israel), affirming support for UNRWA’s humanitarian mission, said that Israel would — without compromising its own security in any way — continue to do its utmost to facilitate the Agency’s operations.  Towards that goal, Israel was dedicated to maintaining the close coordination between UNRWA and Israeli officials in the field.  The day-to-day realities on the ground of that relationship presented a clear contrast with the impression conveyed by some of the statements that were heard in the Fourth Committee, and in the draft resolutions regarding UNRWA soon to be considered.


Highlighting ways in which Israel was cooperating with UNRWA and other international organizations to ensure that humanitarian relief reached Palestinians populations in need, he said that Israel had liberalized the system through which civilians goods entered the area, despite continued terrorist attacks.  Since that decision, the number of trucks entering Gaza had doubled to approximately 250 per day, delivering more than 365,000 tons of aid, including 25 million litres of fuel and 14,000 tons of cooking gas to the Gaza Strip since 17 June.  Israel was also working to increase the number of trucks entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing to 350 trucks per day by the end of the year.  However, the ability to extend the opening of the Karni crossing on more days had been limited by continued threats and terrorist attacks; that crossing had been attacked by Palestinian terrorists many times.


Over the past four months, Israel had approved 31 new international development projects in the Gaza Strip, including 12 UNRWA projects, he said.  However, logistical arrangements had created some delays in the delivery of building materials due to, for example, delays in receipt by Israel for materials needed for some of the approved projects.  Regarding UNRWA’s schools, the Agency had submitted requests to build eight new schools in the Gaza Strip, two new clinics, and to expand the facilities if two existing schools.  Nine of those projects had been approved, and materials were beginning to flow into Gaza for their construction.  Israel had also undertaken steps to promote and substantially improve the West Bank economy, including the removal of hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints.  Those measures, and the continued cooperation with international organizations, had made a significant impact.  In the first half of 2010 alone, real gross domestic product (GDP) growth amounted to 9 per cent in the West Bank and 16 per cent in Gaza, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Notwithstanding those efforts, he said there had been unfortunate instances in which UNRWA officials had acted contrary to the Agency’s humanitarian mission by making controversial political statements.  Those forays into political terrain could not be considered to be part of a legitimate advocacy role, as they undermined the Agency’s neutrality and harmed its humanitarian mission.  It was telling that when it came to the statements of Agency officials that were not to the liking of the Palestinian side, the Agency was quick to respond and deny them, while not acting in a similar manner when it came to statements of Agency officials regarding Israel.  UNRWA would do well to focus its energies on its vital humanitarian role, leaving the realm of politics to others.


He went on to say that many of the States that had made politicized statements were not supporting UNRWA in ways that could improve the conditions of the Palestinian refugees on the ground.  For example, according to UNRWA statistics, no Arab country figured among the Agency’s 10 major donors from 2000 until 2009, and only two Arab countries were among the top 20 donors.  In total, Arab countries had provided only about 10 per cent of the Agency’s total regular and non-regular budget in 2009, with the vast majority of funding coming from Western countries.  He hoped that Israel’s Arab neighbours would show their support for the Palestinian people through meaningful contributions, instead of offering empty and inflammatory rhetoric that did nothing to help the situation on the ground.


He said the resolutions before the Committee were politicized and ignored the many basic facts, such as the destructive role played by the Hamas terrorist organization in the region.  That terrorist organization, which was now ruling the Gaza Strip as a result of its violent takeover in the area in 2007, called openly for Israel’s destruction, engaged in brazen weapons-smuggling and terrorism, and continued to launch rockets at Israeli towns and civilians.  Hamas continued to put weapons in the midst of civilian populations and near United Nations facilities, thereby deliberately putting them in harm’s way.  Hamas had issued countless threats to United Nations staff, including UNWRA, and had tried to obstruct its work.  Hamas had also confiscated food shipments, broken into UNRWA offices to steal equipment, and allowed militants to launch two cowardly attacks on UNRWA summer camps last July.  Such incidences had been documented by the Secretariat in various briefings before the Security Council over the past year.


He asked why it was that those facts were absent from the draft resolutions on the current agenda item, as well as from many of the statements heard on the topic.  There had not been a single word about the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, or of the continued firing of rockets on Israeli civilians, or of Hamas’ continued obstruction of the work of the Agency and other international organizations.  Israel shared the goal of all parties to resolve the refugee problem, alongside the other aspects of the conflict, and called on the Palestinian Authority to resume direct negotiations with Israel without delay.  Clearly, the conflict could only be solved through direct negotiations that touched upon both parties’ vital interests.


BABACAR CARLOS MBAYE ( Senegal) commended the commitment of UNRWA personnel, and said that “justice delayed was justice denied”, which described the plight of the refugees, who, after six decades, continued to suffer humiliation.  The noble activities of UNRWA in education, health-care, aid and microfinance, were ineffective in light of the violence, oppression and blockade.  Continuation of UNRWA programmes and services was a goal that could not continue without a united approach to deal with the difficulties facing the Agency.  UNRWA’s deficit was due to a lack of political will.  Senegal appealed to all donors to show solidarity and to ensure regular financing to UNRWA programming.  There was no doubt that solidarity helped remedy the situation of UNRWA, to the benefit of refugees.  What was urgent though, was settling the overall question of Palestine, including the rights of refugees, through a sovereign Palestinian State living side by side in peace with Israel.


DOCTOR MASHABANE ( South Africa) noted that, in the absence of a long-term political solution in the region, which was to be found only in the full realization of the legitimate and inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, the role of the Agency remained “indispensable”.  South Africa recognized the obligation of Member States in ensuring that the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees were addressed through meaningful action on three levels.  First, continued political support for the peace process between Israel and Palestine was necessary.  South Africa called on the Israeli Government to honour its previous international commitments by putting an end to all further settlement construction in the Palestinian West Bank, which had created an impasse in the current phase of direct negotiations.  That, said the representative, would demonstrate Israel’s “serious intention to bring about the establishment of a viable and fully independent Palestinian State.  The delegation also called for an end to the shelling of rockets into Israeli territory and for continued unity among the Palestinian leadership, which would strengthen the negotiation process.


Second, he said his country was concerned about the “litany of contraventions by Israel” of its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including, but not limited to, the continued imposition of the blockade of Gaza, the continued construction of the unlawful separation well, and other items.  He called for the immediate lifting of the “unconscionable and unsustainable” siege of Gaza, which had brought hardships to millions.  Finally, his delegation was “deeply concerned” by the Agency’s funding gap and shortfall in its operational budget, and it called on all Governments that had not met their pledges in full to generously contribute to the Agency’s fund, and those potential donors who had not yet contributed to the Agency to consider doing so on a regular basis.  South Africa would continue both its political and economic support to the Palestinian people, he said.  Member States should also increase the Agency’s funding from the United Nations regular budget.  The support of the international community must continue until a political solution was found.


MOHAMMAD ABDO ABD ELKARIM TARAWNEH (Jordan) thanked Filippo Grandi for his presentation yesterday.  The Palestinian cause was at the heart of conflict in the Middle East, and Jordan always wanted to resolve the issues of the refugees.  The vast majority of refugees were in Jordan and, thus, his Government allocated $500 million from its budget each year to provide for their education and other services.  He noted the negative impact of the reduction of UNRWA’s budget on the situation, which had in turn adversely affected Jordan and other hosting countries.  Refugees in despair would not hesitate to resort to extremist ideas, he said, adding:  “I do not hide this fact.”  Nor was it fair that $500 million be allocated each year to refugees.


He called for a substantial increase in UNRWA’s budget to enable it to carry out its tasks.  Donor countries and financial institutions should step up quickly to in that regard to support refugees in tackling their problems.  Private aid could not replace Government contributions.  He asked UNRWA to increase its personnel so it could carry through its mission.  The international community and UNRWA had welcomed Jordan’s aid, and thus, he expressed concern at the ongoing Israeli blockade.  No obstacle should be placed in UNRWA’s way of rebuilding schools and health-care centres.  Safety of UNRWA personnel was important and their movement needed to be permitted so they could carry out their mission.  In closing, he thanked all of UNRWA’s personnel for its service.


MARIA WALESKA VIVAS-MENDOZA (Venezuela), aligning herself with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that although UNRWA’s continued existence was a reminder of the tragedy of the Palestinian people, she commended its work.  There was an inescapable responsibility of the international community, which was a just and lasting peace.  From any point of view, Israel’s treatment of Gaza, including the blockade, was collective punishment.  That had resulted in growing poverty and dependence on aid, lack of water treatment, problems with the electrical power plant, lack of cooking oil and gas, and insufficient supplies for the rebuilding of schools.  UNRWA was hampered by the lack of all building materials, and, thus, reconstruction had stalled.  The Israeli authorities also charged transit taxes to UNRWA, which was a direct tax in violation of the immunity agreement.  That tax, in the millions of dollars, increased costs, storage and transport.


She said that the situation in West Bank and East Jerusalem was difficult, where settler violence had increased.  The Israeli authorities restricted freedom of movement by UNRWA staff, and thus she called for an end to the blockade of Gaza and a lifting of the restriction on the movement of commodities.  Her delegation observed with concern the funding situation of UNRWA.  The lack of funding meant food aid was at risk, as were employment programmes and cash aid to offset the effects of the crisis.  She commended the work of UNRWA to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp, and paid tribute to the Agency for its commitment to its staff, who often worked in adverse conditions, to help the refugees.


STEPHANE REY ( Switzerland) said that UNRWA, since its inception 60 years ago, had proved itself as a credible and trustworthy partner and had largely implemented its mandate in a cost-effective manner, despite a volatile operational context.  Within the framework of a peace agreement, the Agency’s presence and services to Palestine refugees were indispensable.  Despite financial pressures, the Agency remained committed to continuing the implementation of its organizational development agenda and to making a positive impact in the field.  In that regard, Switzerland would continue to support the Agency through the provision of experts and ear-marked funding for innovative projects, in addition to projects related to organizational development, he said.


Regarding the situation in Gaza — where UNRWA staff unions demanded that the Agency pay its personnel even when they were on strike — he said that Switzerland “emphatically” supported UNRWA in its “no work-no pay” policy.  At the same time, Switzerland called for sufficient funding to enable UNWRA to carry out its stabilising function in the Middle East, and supported its efforts to expand donor bases and seek out partnerships to better serve refugees.  Switzerland supported UNRWA’s mobilization efforts, insisting that the Agency “cannot be allowed to fall short, as failure would seriously impact the human security of all people living in the region”.


In closing, he took note of UNRWA’s efforts to mainstream protection into its work, but remained deeply concerned about the ongoing entry and exit restrictions regarding Gaza.  The easing of the blockade had not yet yielded noticeable improvements on the ground, and the expected progress with regard to construction was still stalled.  The protracted blockade impeded the efforts of UNRWA and others to improve the humanitarian situation for the 1.5 million residents of Gaza.  He called for the swift deployment of mechanisms to speed up the passage of urgently-needed construction materials and basic humanitarian aid.


MESAID A. A. ALKULAIB ( Kuwait) commended the Agency for not sparing any effort in its role to provide basic services, as well as health-care and educational services for the refugees in the Occupied Territories and the host countries.  Thus, he said the continued destruction by the Israeli occupation forces to the Palestinian infrastructure, as well as killing and torturing of the unarmed Palestinian population, only worsened and complicated matters further.  The occupation forces had imposed a siege and banned the entry of basic goods and humanitarian needs to Gaza, which led to the deterioration in the provision of health services and exacerbated their psychological problems.  Further, the continued closure of borders and restricted freedom of movement included UNRWA personnel.


He said that, amid the oppression in the Gaza Strip, vital programmes were delayed, owing to the shortage of basic material, the interruption of electricity and halt to sewage disposal.  The last subjected the Mediterranean to environmental hazards, as noted in the Commissioner-General’s report.  Last July, a freedom flotilla was attacked by the occupation forces, with excessive use of force.  He emphasized the importance of the return of the refugees to their land, which would enable them to live in peace.  He supported UNRWA’s efforts.  He rejected the statements made by the UNRWA’s representative in New York, Andrew Whitley, before the National Council for US-Arab Relations in Washington, D.C. last month, which was considered as squandering the rights of the Palestinian refugees.


Kuwait reaffirmed its commitment to the voluntary annual contributions in the amount of $1.5 million in support of UNRWA’s continuing work.  He called on the international community to sustain its support of UNRWA.  He renewed Kuwait’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and demanded Israel’s adherence to Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and other relevant resolutions.


SHARKE CHAMAN KHAN ( Bangladesh), aligning her delegation with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement, said UNRWA was providing basic needs and services for 4.76 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  Bangladesh appreciated UNRWA’s unfaltering efforts in that regard.  The restrictions of movement on UNRWA personnel and vehicles, however, severely hampered the Agency’s humanitarian activities.  She demanded that Israel ensure unrestricted mobility and non-interference in the activities of the Agency.


She noted that the Agency’s micro-finance department financed 28,300 loans worth more than $37 million for small businesses to reduce unemployment and poverty, empower women, and provide financial opportunities for youth.  Bangladesh had been the birthplace of the concept of micro-credit and, thus, it was gratifying to observe the success of the programmes and acceptance in the region as a major tool for poverty alleviation.  She called for further extension of the programme, with a goal of empowering poor Palestinian women.  Given experience in the field, Bangladesh would be happy to share its expertise to fine tune the programmes to meet the specific needs of Palestinian brethren and the region.


In conclusion, she thanked relevant agencies and donors for support of the Palestinian refugees and for UNRWA’s sustainability.  She called on the international community to come forward with generous contributions in response to the Commissioner-General’s appeal for funding.


YADH BOUSSELMI ( Tunisia) said that UNRWA had been providing commendable services under difficult conditions and fierce challenges.  His delegation had reviewed the notable report of the Commissioner-General and that of the working group, and had listened attentively to the statement delivered by Mr. Grandi, as well as those requests for support to enable UNRWA to continue its services, and he wished to emphasize a number of points.  The Agency’s great financial deficit was among its major challenges.  He appreciated the commendable assistance by the donor countries, especially the recent contributions by the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.  Those and others could decrease the shortfall, and he called for intensified efforts to find a solution.


He commended UNRWA’s path of “sustaining change”, and hoped that its programmes could be implemented, amid the difficult political and economic conditions in which it worked.  The blockade and movement restrictions by the Israeli occupying authority consistently made it difficult to assist the refugees.  The housing demolitions threatened more than 70,000 refuges.  Israel must desist from those practices that violated all kinds of international laws, and comply with commitments to allow for the provision of improved services.  Since there was no political solution visible on the horizon, UNRWA’s work was essential.


He reiterated support for the Agency and the importance of attaining a just, lasting, comprehensive settlement to the region, as that was the only way to solve the problems and alleviate the suffering of the refugees.  He reiterated his delegation’s gratitude to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for hosting millions of Palestinian refugees and provided them with a dignified way of living.  He hoped that support for UNRWA would continue, and the position of all refugees would be developed, enabling them to enjoy their basic rights.


RICHARD W. ERDMAN ( United States) said his delegation appreciated the opportunity to discuss UNRWA’s important work, and he highlighted the agency’s contribution to the welfare of the Palestinian People.  The United States remained concerned about the situation facing the Palestinian refugees.  UNRWA served a critical role throughout the region by providing humanitarian assistance and basic services to more than 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza.  Thanks to the supply of health, education and relief and social services, UNRWA had improved millions of lives.  The United States was the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, and had contributed more than $237 million in fiscal year 2010.  The United States’ support of UNRWA in 2010 had included $130 million for the Agency’s core services, $105 million for emergency relief and reconstruction, $10 million for construction of five new schools, and $20 million to assist the 30,000 displaced persons after heavy fighting had destroyed the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.


The financial contribution of the United States to UNRWA, he said, represented one part of its total assistance to the Palestinian people.  The country had provided more than $1.5 billion since 2008, including $650 million in direct budget supply to help the Palestinian Authority to create the institutions and economy necessary for statehood, including essential infrastructure, rehabilitation of schools and health clinics, advancing the rule of law, and supporting private sector development.  The United States remained steadfastly committed to a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.  The United States looked forward to the day when Israel and Palestine would live side-by-side in peace and security and it remained committed to working together with international partners to achieve that goal.


UNRWA helped to foster stability and order in the region, and represented the human development of Palestinian refugees, he continued.  The focus on humanitarian issues, impartiality and neutrality, were critically important to fulfilling the Agency’s mandate.  The United States remained concerned about UNRWA’s ability to provide crucial assistance in the face of chronic financial shortfalls.  This year, the Agency struggled to meet its mandate to provide basic services and would continue to struggle without a significant infusion of donor supply across all fields of operations.  Further, 75 per cent of schoolchildren attended schools in shifts, sitting three to a desk, for classes that met for half the normal class time.  In Gaza, 139,000 children were eligible for an UNRWA education, which the Agency lacked the facilities to provide.  In 2009, UNRWA medical workers preformed more than 11 million consultations in medical health centres across its five areas of operation.  As the Agency’s critical needs mounted, he urged donor States to continue robust support of UNRWA and to reach out to non-traditional donors to secure the funding needed to maintain a consistently high level of humanitarian assistance.


ERTUGRUL APAKAN ( Turkey), aligning himself with the statement of the European Union, underscored that UNRWA’s situation was dire.  Because the problem had become structural in nature, the outlook was also bleak.  UNRWA provided relief protection and human development assistance to almost 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.  They could not be left alone to carry the burden of financial crisis.  It was crucial that the General Assembly look at the level of funding for UNRWA, with the view to providing additional assistance.  He called on the international community to increase its voluntary assistance.


Concerning the operational environment, he said that all obstacles to UNRWA’s work must be lifted and the Agency must be given full access by the Israeli Government.  UNRWA must be allowed to carry out its tasks, and its work should not be made more difficult by cumbersome procedures.  The situation in Gaza, designed and imposed by Israel, was an “appalling” reality, and the inhumane and unlawful blockade, aimed at the collective punishment of a civilian population, persisted.  Human misery on a massive scale was being inflicted, and the situation was reprehensible.


Concerning references to the minimal easing of restrictions on Gaza, he reminded all of the context in which some new measures had been introduced.  He noted the final report of the fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Council, which had started on May 31, that Israeli forces had stormed a multinational humanitarian aid convoy and left nine civilians dead and many wounded.  That incident triggered the immediate condemnation by the international community, including the Security Council.  Turkey would pursue that grave breach of international law.  Regarding the dynamics in the region, he hoped that all status issues, including Palestine refugees could be resolved as a result of direct negotiations between the parties.  For six decades, the tragedy of the refugees unfolded day by day.  UNRWA provided admirably, but only the bare minimum.  Without a just resolution and peace agreement, the plight of exiled Palestinians could not be redressed.


KAKOLI GHOSH DASTIDAR ( India ) said that the first of the challenge facing the Agency concerned its financing.  Its budget shortfall was growing, amid a time of increasing demands upon it.  The separation barrier, closures, curfews and other restrictions on movement in the West Bank and Gaza had led to further hardship for the affected population, and the restriction on movement of Agency staff members had a “serious impact” on the Agency’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to those in urgent need.  Further, the events of 31 May that had led to a tragic loss of life, and the reports of killings and injuries to people on the boats carrying supplies for Gaza, were “deplorable”.


She said that the continued levy of fees and charges for the transit of humanitarian goods was unacceptable, as that seriously affected the working of the Agency, which was already short on funds.  Additionally, the detention of Agency staff and lack of Agency access to information on its staff was a matter of serious concern.  India supported the call of the Agency chairperson regarding the removal of restrictions on the movement of agency staff and goods throughout the Agency’s areas of work, and took note of new measures towards easing the movement of goods to Gaza.  However, more relaxation on movement of reconstruction material was needed.


As in the past, India had manifested its support to the Palestinian people through continuing development support to Palestine, he said.  Last year, India had enhanced its annual contribution to the Agency to $1 million and had made an additional special contribution of $1 million in response to the Agency’s flash appeal.  Last year and this year, India had contributed $10 million annually as untied budget support to the Palestinian National Authority.  India would continue to do all within its capacity to assist Palestine in its endeavours in capacity- and institution-building.  It was critical, said the representative, for the international community to work closely with the parties, with a view to encouraging them to resume the direct negotiations that had begun in September.


SHOJI RYUNO (Japan), noting the long history of his country’s assistance to the Palestinians, said that Japan would continue to advance the initiative of the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity”, which included plans for an agro-industrial park in Jericho City by 2012.  Currently, land for the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park was being prepared and a solar electricity generation system was about to be built.  In addition, his country was conducting a survey on the establishment of a sewage plan in Jericho.


Continuing, he said Japan attached particular importance to assisting Palestinian refugees in the area of human resources development, through education and vocational training.  It had done so based on the strong belief that the Palestinian youth held the responsibility for the future of Palestine in their hands.  Their participation in the creation of a society that gave them hope for that future would contribute to the establishment of a viable Palestinian State.  That was important to ensure “human security”, which called for protection and empowerment of people to secure their dignified lives.  Promoting human security was one of the key pillars of Japan’s diplomacy.


He announced that his Government had decided this past month to extend Non-Project Grand Aid of ¥1.5 billion to the Palestinian Authority for its economic and development promotion efforts.  The Program of the 13th Government of the Palestinian Authority, as well as its institution-building and human development projects, would also continue to receive his country’s support.  To that end, Japan was considering collaborating with other East Asian countries to contribute to Palestinian State-building efforts, and he noted that a technical-level meeting had been held in June regarding that project.  Expressing concerns about UNRWA’s financial crisis, he stated that his country was considering making additional contributions if approved by the Diet.


EZZIDIN Y.A. BELKHEIR ( Libya) commended the efforts of UNRWA to aid almost 5 million refugees in the region.  The Agency might be a source of pride for the international community, but its continued existence meant the continued suffering of the suffering of the refugees.  He noted inhumane Israeli practices, and said the international community closed its eyes to the rights of the refugees, including their right of return.  The pending issues would only be solved with the return of refugees to their land and the establishment of an independent country.


Regarding the misery and suffering of refugees in neighbouring countries, he noted several statistics in the report, and said the 76.7 per cent of refugees suffered from food insecurity.  Generally, people were worn out because of war.  The harsh blockade stopped basic material for humanitarian activities, and he asked about the reason for the intransigence of the Israeli forces, stressing that there was no way to justify the actions by Israeli security.  Bombs were not made of bread, and rockets were not made of baby formula.  There was also no justification for redrawing the map of the region and for the collective annihilation of the Palestinians.


The United Nations must reconsider the funding for UNRWA.  The Zionist occupying authorities were the cause of the problems for the Palestinians, and they should not escape punishment or provision of compensation.  Libya supported UNRWA and its efforts to mitigate the problems of the refugees.  The solution was the right of return, restoration of property and the establishment of an independent State.


SALIM MOHAMMED AL WARDI ( Oman) said the issue of Palestinian refugees was one of the oldest items on the agenda of the United Nations.  The condition of the refugees was worsening, and there was an increase in poverty and other hardships.  Thus, he called for an end to the blockade — now in its fourth year — which had dire consequences.  Oman was concerned about the Agency’s financing, which affected its ability to give human development and relief to the refugees, and he called on the international community to close the gaps in its budget.  He thanked the countries that hosted refugees and UNRWA for its help in assisting the refugees.


MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSOA ( Brazil) said the country was a staunch supporter of UNRWA and in recent years had been contributing financial resources to the Agency.  Already in 2010, Brazil had given $500,000 to the reconstruction of the refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, in Lebanon, as well as $200,000 to the Agency for the development of projects aimed at ensuring food security for students, children, pregnant women, the elderly and chronically ill.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza still fell short of acceptable standards.  The delegation, therefore, welcomed the Israeli decision to adopt a limited list of forbidden items, and hoped that an accrued list of goods would be allowed into Gaza, including building materials for projects sponsored by the international community.  Also positive had been Israel’s decision to improve the capacity at the Kerem Shalom crossing and to extend its hours of operation, as well as to allow for greater movement of humanitarian workers and international personnel.


Meanwhile, the delegate said, other urgent initiatives required included an immediate and sustained opening of crossings, the resumption of regular exports from Gaza, and the full restoration of the flow of persons in and out of Gaza.  The population in Gaza should not survive only on international assistance.  In sum, the blockade was “in violation of international law and should be immediately lifted”.


As an expression of solidarity with Palestinian refugees, Brazil’s President had last July approved a contribution of some $15 million to the Palestinian National Authority in support of the Palestinian economy and for the reconstruction of Gaza, said the delegate.  Part of those resources would be channelled through international organizations, including through the Agency, for projects to support Gaza’s reconstruction and development in areas such as food security and rural development, reconstruction of schools and hospitals, and disaster risk reduction.  Brazil further expressed its concern over the Agency’s precarious financial situation, and worried that the “paucity of financial resources” might affect the provision of services at the core of the Agency’s mandate, including health, education and assistance to the most vulnerable.  The delegation called on all those in a position to do so, especially developed countries, to increase their contributions.


MAJDI RAMADAN ( Lebanon) said that UNRWA’s financial shortfalls were only exacerbated by illegal Israeli port and related transit charges on its shipments entering the Gaza Strip.  In addition, the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the requirement to palletize all container shipments contributed to increased expenditure for UNRWA in the form of charges for storage, demurrage, transportation and palletization.  The blockade obstructed freedom of movement of UNRWA staff and of essential goods, including building materials, without which refugee camps in Gaza and UNRWA premises remained destroyed.  He called for an end to the blockade, the Israeli occupation and its associated regime of closures, house demolitions, land confiscation, settlement activities and building of the “racist” separation wall.


Noting that Lebanon was host to about 400,000 Palestinian refugees, he said that, as a member of the working group on financing of UNRWA, the country was aware of the difficulties the refugees were facing.  It was the international community’s responsibility to create healthy and decent living conditions for them in those interim locations.  His country, even with serious financial constraints, made concerted efforts to mitigate the Palestine refugees’ conditions.  Towards that goal, restrictions on refugees entering Lebanon’s labour market had, in recent years, been eased and in August, Lebanon’s Parliament had passed amendments to the “employment legislation”, granting additional employment rights to the Palestine refugees.


He also commended the UNRWA Lebanon field office’s focus on improving the quality of health-care in the 12 camps and 16 gatherings in Lebanon.  He was also pleased to see that similar reforms in 2010 were focusing on education, engineering and relief services.  He also praised UNRWA’s work in the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared Camp.  He thanked all the donors who pledged support and urged them to honour their commitments.


MOHAMAD HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) noted that the debate was being held following Israel’s failure to extend the moratorium on settlement construction on the West Bank.  The settlement issue remained the biggest obstruction to peace.  Yet, Israel’s policies and practices aimed at altering the demographic composition, physical character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem were blatant violations of international law.  He called on Israel to stop all settlement construction, expansion and planning in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to dismantle the settlements built therein, in compliance with international law and various United Nations resolutions.


Continuing, he said that the blockade, among other measures, had caused extreme hardship for Palestinian civilians and their society.  His country, with the international community, had drawn attention to the consequences of Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territory.  The role of UNRWA was essential in ameliorating the plight of Palestinian refugees.  The Agency’s chronically under-funded budget was of great concern and, to that end, he called for “increased and urgent attention” from the donor community and the international financial institutions so that it could continue to fulfil its mandate.


ZHANG CHANGWEI ( China) said over the years, UNRWA had contributed to the Middle East peace process and to protecting the rights of refugees, and he appreciated its humanitarian work and its results.  However, the situation was “grave”, and as Mr. Grandi had pointed out, only 24 per cent of the goods for projects were allowed in to Gaza.  Thus, he called for an end to the blockade of the enclave, in order to give the people of Gaza the space the needed to develop.  Donors should fulfil their financial commitments to UNRWA.  China had always supported the Agency’s work, and he was very concerned with its budget shortfall, and the restriction of movement of its personnel.  Since 1981, China had given support to UNRWA and it would continue to do so within its capacities.


FRANCIS CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, commended UNRWA’s work in meeting new challenges as it struggled with ever-limited resources to face the growing demands of an increasing refugee population — “a significant proportion of which exists under the stricture of various embargoes”.  He noted that UNRWA and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine had been working for more than 60 years to assist the Palestine refugees by providing medical, educational and other social services that “would normally be the responsibility of the local governing authority”.  That said, the delegation hoped that the renewed peace process could address “the root causes” of those symptoms and assist the Israelis and the Palestinians in establishing secure States for their respective citizens.


He said that many of the issues raised in this year’s report of the Commissioner-General were, in essence, the symptoms of larger issues, which had festered in the region for far too many years.  Each year at this meeting, delegations were presented with a seemingly endless list of difficulties and differences separating Israelis and Palestinians.  But, his delegation knew that “good will exists to promote, establish and preserve the mechanisms that will ensure peace, collaboration and good-neighbourliness”.


The Holy See called upon the members of the diplomatic Quartet to use all strategies available to them to assist the peoples of the region to reconcile their substantial differences, he stated, underlining that a lasting solution had to include the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.  The Holy See also renewed its support for internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and access to the Holy places, as contained in Assembly resolution ES-10/2.  “Only with a just and lasting peace — not imposed but secured through negotiation and reasonable compromise” — would the legitimate aspirations of all the peoples of the Holy Land be fulfilled.


Closing Remarks


Mr. Grandi thanked those who had spoken, saying he was grateful for their support, in particular, for those who represented Governments that were UNRWA donors and people who hosted Palestinian refugees and had done so for many years.  He also thanked delegations that had communicated their additional financial contributions for this year or next, as well as those that had highlighted the need to push ahead more decisively with reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and revitalization of its economy, which underlay the problems.


He underscored the need to address the problems for the sake of stability in the region, including for Israel.  He thanked the Government of Israel for easing the blockade in Gaza, and joined others in calling for a clarifying of the procedures aimed at granting swifter approval of reconstruction projects.  He welcomed Israel’s statement that approvals would be made in writing in a clear manner and that it was working to improve the capacity of crossings into Gaza.  Those two things delayed UNRWA’s reconstruction projects, and he was glad they would be addressed.


He recognized the legitimacy of the security concerns of Israel, and said that UNRWA condemned the launching of rockets against civilians into the Gaza Strip.  However, he supported those who called for a mechanism for safe passage into Gaza, so that the issue of reconstruction could be addressed.  Lastly, he repeated, it was, in the end, the “root causes” of the blockade, which were political, that needed to be addressed.


He noted the need to support UNRWA financially, including enlargement of the funding base, pledging to strive to get more Governments on board.  There were important emergency appeals, as well as the core budget, and special projects.


He was pleased that there was “listening” in regard to obtaining support from the United Nations budget.  It was a complex discussion, but he appeal for its consideration.  He would work with the advisory commission to address the structural issues, and he looked to the leadership of Saudi Arabia, which held the chair this year, and Jordan, which held the vice-chair, for support in that exercise.  It was important that early, substantial contributions were made.


In one month, UNRWA would have its annual pledging conference, and he hoped solid pledges would come in.  He thanked delegates for supporting UNRWA, and noted what the Japanese delegate said, “The work of UNRWA is essentially work that enhanced human security and thus human development.”  Thus, it was fundamental to the security of the region.


He had noted in September at the Millennium Development Goals summit that UNRWA was an “MDG implementer”.  The importance of its work must be supported.  Among other things, the Agency focused on programmes for youths.  It was committed to its reform, and he hoped that the second phase would be felt concretely by the refugees it served.  UNRWA also remained dedicated to neutral, apolitical advocacy on the refugees’ behalf.  He would return to the Middle East after this meeting and take back to staff and refugees the strong support of the General Assembly.


“Peace is possible,” and the just equitable solution of refugees was achievable, he concluded.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record