|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Cost-Benefit Calculus for Occupation Must Change, as Israel Reaping All Benefits,
Says Palestinian Rights Committee Chairman as UN Seminar Opens in Cairo
Secretary-General, in Message, Says Occupation Measures that Stifle
Palestinians ‘Must Be Rolled Back’, While Speakers Explore Ways to Ease Burden
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 6 February — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message today to the opening of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, said that occupation measures that stifled Palestinian life must be rolled back, as the status quo was unacceptable and only guaranteed continued conflict and suffering.
Speaking on Mr. Ban’s behalf, Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said he remained hopeful that the momentum created by the start of direct talks in 2012 between the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ultimately lead to serious negotiations based on comprehensive proposals on territory and security, and an agreement for a two-State solution by the end of the year.
Addressing the two-day gathering in the capital of Egypt which brought together dignitaries, lawmakers, academicians, and civil society representatives in order to assess economic costs of the decades-old occupation, Mr. Ban said neither the parties nor the international community could afford to let the present opportunity slip away.
Deeming the current situation “unacceptable”, he urged the parties, “at this crucial moment”, to refrain from provocative action and do their utmost to resolve all permanent status issues by the end of the year, leading to the end of the conflict and the establishment of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel, and with Jerusalem as the capital of two States.
Drawing attention to the Egyptian revolution of 25 January, the First Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt said the “New Egypt” was an integral part of the Arab popular movement. It was a model for other popular movements to advocate fundamental principles and values, namely, “bread, freedom and social justice”. “It set the pace of our path to democracy, progress, the respect of human rights and laid the very foundation of our relationships with the rest of the world.”
Israel should be aware of, and should respond to and not resist that change, he said. All parties need to fully adapt to the transformation of the political map in the region, and act in acceptance of that change. The old policies would not be appropriate, and words without acts would soon prove useless. “We strongly hope that this change would eventually be in favour of the Palestinian people and its legitimate cause, since the alternative is the worst scenario that no country has any interest in opting for,” he said.
In order to avoid that worst scenario, he said, the international community had to take a crucial decision this year: reaching a final settlement. Rather than duplicating efforts, and wasting opportunities in individual frameworks and initiatives, it was necessary to integrate all those efforts in an overarching approach, in an international meeting or conference that would lead to a specific outcome, a final solution for the Palestinian people, backed by the peoples of the Arab region, and accepted by any other parties, not only for the individual, but rather for the collective interest.
He said that amid the developments in the region, Egypt was unwavering in its support of the Palestinian people. It reaffirmed its solid commitment to building its historical role in that regard and striving to restore the Palestinian people’s rights aimed at achieving a just peace, ending occupation and restoring unity. Speaking on behalf of the Egyptian presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, he reaffirmed the Movement’s support to the Meeting and considered it a priority to restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Abdou Salam Diallo, urged a change in “the cost-benefit calculus for the occupation”. Palestine had the distinction, he said, of being among the world’s top aid recipients, solely because for decades the Israeli occupation had been starving the Palestinian economy of land, investments, natural resources, markets and opportunities.
More than 40 per cent of the West Bank was off-limits to Palestinians, serving the needs of half a million Israeli settlers, he said. The separation wall was poised to swallow up a further 9 per cent of the territory. Housing demolitions and evictions had doubled; settler crimes and vandalism were up 40 per cent. Israel was blocking Gaza exports and vital imports, preventing the rebuilding of its devastated economy, and fragmentation and restrictions plagued the West Bank.
The occupation, he said, caused vast economic damage, including lost output, the plundering of natural resources and environmental degradation, which ran into billions of dollars annually. Without the occupation, the Palestinian economy would double its size, and there would be no need for assistance.
International assistance was expected to bolster the peace process and prepare the Palestinian economy for independence, but in reality, the aid all too often went to mitigate the humanitarian crisis, plug budget gaps, and undo the damage caused by the occupation, he said. Just recently, Israel blew up the Karni goods crossing into Gaza, built with European Union aid.
A vicious cycle had emerged, whereby the occupation, which was in its forty-fifth year, aggravated the Palestinian economic plight and deepened their aid dependency, he said. The economic vulnerability was handicapping Palestinians in the diplomatic arena, making it more difficult to break free of the occupation.
Israel, meanwhile, was reaping all the benefits of the occupation: a captive market, cheap labour, natural resources, and land, to further its colonial project. However, Israel was insulated from the economic costs, which were borne by the Palestinians and the donor community. The good news was that the Palestinian leadership, aware of the pitfalls, was doing something about it. Recent initiatives to boost domestic revenues were a step towards eliminating the need for external budgetary assistance.
That was not to say assistance to the Palestinians was becoming less important; on the contrary, the need was becoming greater, he said. What was needed was “smarter assistance”, which promoted self-reliance, stimulated rather than crowded out private investment, and empowered Palestinians. Robust engagement on the part of the donor community would be key.
In other moves, the Gaza blockade must be lifted completely, and measures of the occupation in the West Bank must be reversed, including a complete stop to all settlement activity. The Palestinian revenues should be safeguarded against politicized manipulation by Israel. At the same time, he urged the donor community to maintain its focus and respond generously to the 2012 Humanitarian Appeal launched by Mr. Gaylard, and to the emergency appeal by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Speaking on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Ali Al-Jarbawi, Minister for Planning and Administrative Development, Palestinian Authority, asked how the economic costs for usurping a nation from its people could be calculated; how could one calculate the economic cost of the humanitarian plight for a victim living under occupation for 44 years? As a Palestinian citizen living under occupation since age 13, how could he calculate the cost? Every Palestinian needed to make that calculation, but the matter surpassed economic and all other costs.
More than affirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the international community should practice that right and not just keep talking about it, he said. It must take effective steps to end the occupation. It was regrettable and shameful that, at the start of the twenty-first century, the domination and occupation persisted. The world must deal with and discuss that occupation and the ways and means to end it promptly to enable the Palestinian people to practice their simple humanitarian, political and natural rights — to live in freedom and dignity in an independent and sovereign State.
Then, in a keynote address, Minister Al-Jarbawi summarized the main developments in the Arab world over the past year, which, he said, would define the region’s politics for years to come. The Arab people “have spoken”, demanding their freedom and self-determination; the Palestinian people had too. He described the steps they had taken last year towards full United Nations membership, but said that, sadly, those had not translated into an endorsement by the United Nations Security Council as the State of Palestine. Recognition of statehood was fundamentally a political process and not a technical one, and ending an occupation did not even require a certain level of development, but the quest did not mean much if occupying forces “do not want to let go”.
At the same time, however, recognition of Palestinian statehood was not just a symbolic act; it would cease all violations of human rights and international law that were part of daily life in the Occupied Territory, including in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Israel did not want that. Palestine’s admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was a clear display of the world’s support for Palestine’s bid for freedom; out of 194 member States, only 14 had voted against it. Despite that broad support, however, Palestinians were still suffering from the political fallout from that vote. Nevertheless, that setback would not prevent them from re-launching the endeavour for statehood in 2012 through either the Security Council or other United Nations organs. In parallel with those efforts, the Palestinians had continued to build strong institutions as the foundation for statehood, but it was close to the limit of what could be achieved while living under a hostile occupation regime. Palestinians “cannot continue sharpening a sharpened pencil,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the Israeli-imposed fragmentation and seizure of Palestinian land had escalated. Israel did not hide its plan to expand settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although the international community condemned that, stating that the settlements undermined peace, nothing was done to prevent their construction. In Jerusalem, for example, new housing units had reached new highs, and in the West Bank, east of the separation wall, there had been an increase in construction by 20 per cent as compared to 2010. In short, the Israeli Government was promoting settlement plans in strategic areas, which would prevent the formation of a viable Palestinian State.
Turning to the economic cost of Israeli occupation and efforts towards mitigating it, he said that Israeli measures had cost the Palestinian economy $7 billion in 2010, an amount close to its annual gross domestic product. That was the result of heavy restrictions imposed on Palestinians in accessing their own natural resources, including their water, land, minerals and natural gas reserves. “It is pure theft,” he said. The siege of Gaza represented another major cost, as well as a cruel assault on the civilian population; it also created a “black” economy. Other losses stemmed from the inflated costs of water and electrical supplies by Israeli companies.
The Israelis wanted land and to squeeze the Palestinians into cantons, and then call that a Palestinian State or even a Palestinian empire, he said. They want the land and the resources, “but they don’t want us”. That was “the game in town, in the Occupied Territory”. However, limited Palestinian self-government in 40 per cent of the West Bank, under whatever name, would never be an acceptable substitute for statehood. While the international community might be forced by Israel, Israel would never get Palestinian approval for “having a State of leftovers”. If everyone was serious about a two-State solution, then the fragmentation of Palestinian lands into areas A, B and C needed to be overcome. That situation was “apartheid reborn”; Palestinian children should never know about areas A, B and C, but only about the State of Palestine.
An ensuing discussion heard interventions by representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations and the United Nations system. Among them was a representative of Palestine’s Embassy in Cairo, who discussed the basic elements required for economic growth, which included full control by the Palestinians over their natural resources, as well as freedom of movement of both people and goods, including imports and exports. That would make the climate conducive for investment. Political stability was also required for any sustainable social and economic growth. He noted that settlers were using water and land resources that belonged to the Palestinian people.
The representative of Turkey said the international community could not fail to support the legitimate call for Palestinian statehood and continue to empower Palestinian institutions and mechanisms for statehood. The representative of the League of Arab States recalled that Israel had been established by a decision of the United Nations, yet it did not heed the Organization’s resolutions. Thus, the international community had a responsibility to urge the texts’ implementation and stop the vicious cycle of demolitions and destruction. He noted that Palestinians were forced to buy water and electricity from Israelis at exorbitant prices.
A representative of Indonesia highlighted the “unbearable” economic and humanitarian predicament. The blockade, he said, made it impossible for the massive reconstruction required in Gaza, where hospitals, businesses and schools remained in ruins. The separation wall was part of Israel’s deployment of physical obstacles, as was the use of complicated permit requirements, especially in and around East Jerusalem. Together, those developments had not only worsened the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territory, but had sown the seeds of deeper misery. Private businesses had continued to shut down at a fast pace, leading to greater unemployment and disillusionment. Despite all that, Palestinians had continued their historical State-building programme, for which they should be heartily commended.
A representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation pointed to Israel’s continued intransigence of international norms, saying its Government obstructed all efforts to achieve the two-State solution by continuing its settlement construction. The occupation forces attacked holy sites and attempted to Judaize Jerusalem and isolate it from the rest of the Occupied Territory. He called on the international community to pressure Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and allow construction and medical supplies through, and on donors to help the beleaguered enclave. The situation had become more urgent than ever, and the international community should assume direct responsibility for finding a just and permanent solution. Lack of a solution would destabilize the region and jeopardize international peace and security.
The United Nations Seminar will meet again at 3 p.m. today in a plenary session to consider “Israeli occupation as the paramount obstacle to socio-economic development in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.
* *** *For information media • not an official record