|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Offsetting Cost of Occupation Faces ‘Stuttering Implementation’ of Peace Accords,
Donor Policies Give Israel ‘Room’ to Pursue Ambitions, Seminar Hears
No Genuine Development in Occupied Palestinian Territory Unless Issues of Land,
Other Resources that Shape Economy Tackled Fairly, Sustainably, Says UN Official
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 7 February — The “stuttering” implementation of the peace accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the consequent violent backlashes and political considerations on the side of donors had repeatedly shifted financial resources away from statehood efforts and towards humanitarian support, an official of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said in Cairo today.
Addressing the third plenary session of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People as it considered the challenges to offsetting the cost of occupation was Geoffrey D. Prewitt, Deputy Director/Programme Coordinator of UNDP’s Regional Centre in Cairo. He said the paralysis in the peace process, which had indefinitely postponed a final-status agreement, was augmented by donor policies that gave Israel “plenty of room and finances” to pursue its ambitions, including annexing large amounts of Palestinian territory and natural resources.
Donor agencies, he said, must deal with the question of how best to tackle the illegal and destructive policies at play in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It must be understood that real development under occupation was impossible; donors needed to realize that genuine development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would not materialize unless the issues of land and other resources that shaped the economy were seriously tackled in a fair and sustainable manner. Aid would have an impact only when it was coupled with a clear political agenda in pursuit of a just peace settlement, based on international law.
Also, he said, since Palestinians under occupation were politically polarized, primarily along party lines, donors should not be part of that conflict or allow it to determine how they allocated aid or who was eligible to receive it. But his main point, he said, was that “no real and sustained development can take place unless the occupation is terminated and the Palestinian people are allowed to attain sovereignty and control over the decisions pertaining to their future, the utilization of their resources and the kind of society they strive for”.
The Islamic Development Bank, said Omar Mehyar, the Bank’s Portfolio Manager in the Trust Funds Department, was committed to help the Palestinian people “no matter what”. Of the $300 million approved for projects in Gaza, the amount spent had been “pitiful” because of the restrictions on materials and the logistical constraints. Despite the numerous challenges to the Bank’s work, he said, “we keep hope alive” for Palestine, which was a “member country”.
He noted that after the war in Gaza, the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council had set aside $1.6 billion for reconstruction, with a time frame of five years for implementation. Now, three years later, “very little has been done”. Of the $300 million for Gaza projects, $61 million was to go to housing units, but people were still living in tents. Similarly, $38 million had been set aside for schools, universities and laboratories, but 80 per cent of the schools in Gaza were operating with double shifts. The health sector, also severely damaged, was still being rebuilt, as was the public works sector.
The lack of materials was profound, he said. To repair destroyed roadways for example, innovative ideas such as the use of interlocking tiles were in place to substitute for the prohibited construction materials. Similar situations existed for the agricultural sector and fisheries. As for electricity, that was a “big disaster” in Gaza. The Bank had set aside $50 million to link the electrical grid in Gaza with Egypt in 2007, but nothing had materialized due to Israeli restrictions. Meanwhile, the existing system in Gaza was deteriorating, and had been hit several times by Israeli military forces. New machinery also could not be brought in, while relying on old machinery seriously compromised the manufacturing sector.
In choosing the theme of the Seminar, said Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, the Palestinian Rights Committee had wanted to show that the $7 billion annual cost of the occupation meant that if the occupation ended, that sum would enable the Palestinian people to “govern ourselves and run our lives”. If the occupation cost $7 billion, then that would be in the Palestinians’ pocket once occupation ended; they would have enough money to be self-reliant. Moreover, they would be able to establish a viable and strong State because they had their own institutions, and they had the support of two thirds of the United Nations General Assembly. “Occupation is not part of the eternal life of the Palestinian people,” he said.
In closing, Committee Chairman Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), said that with the Seminar, the Committee had wanted to make the point that the occupation came with a price tag, “a heavy price tag”; it proved costly, even destructive for the Palestinian people, negatively affecting the economy, socio-economic development, the daily life of millions of Palestinians. The occupation and its effects on the Palestinians also came at a cost for the international community, diverting precious funds from supporting development to mitigating the damage caused by the Israeli policies.
Mojtaba Kazazi, Executive Head, United Nations Compensation Commission, Geneva, discussed lessons of the last 20 years that could be useful in the context of Palestinian claims. Specifically, he reviewed the Compensation Commission, a subsidiary body of the United Nations Security Council, spawned by resolution 687 (1991) concerning the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, informally known as the “ceasefire resolution”. Mr. Kazazi pointed out that the text had several provisions related to compensation, including a reaffirmation that Iraq was “liable”, under international law, for any direct loss or damage, including environmental damage or injury to Governments, nationals or organizations in connection with its invasion of Kuwait.
The Commission’s mandate, he explained, was to receive claims, process and pay them. He described its structure and the adoption of a further resolution, which had created a compensation fund that said the compensations should be financed from Iraq’s oil revenue. The Commission had received 2.7 million claims from more than 100 Governments. Along with Governments, there were also categories for individuals, corporations and organizations. He described the types of claims, such as for injury or death, and who would be responsible for compensation payment.
He said that a commission created in the case of the Occupied Palestinian Territory would “create expectations” and, thus, before implementing such a body, it was important to have a sound administrative structure in place to deal with claims before they arose, to inform people of their rights and to agree on the implementation mechanisms. It was better to spend more time at the arrangements at the outset, as that would save time later. A pilot test could be made on some claims, he suggested.
Nawaf Abou Shamala, Economic Expert, League of Arab States, Cairo, agreed that it was impossible to map out the cost of occupation, but he also agreed that Israeli occupation was responsible for the calamitous loss in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The suffering of the Palestinian people had been catastrophic; untreated Israeli sewage flowing on the land of a Palestinian farmer and his son was unthinkable. For every 100 glasses of Palestinian drinkable water, Israelis took 85 glasses; that was catastrophic. The whole world had to oppose such practices and “ring the bells” of alarm.
He had heard earlier in the Seminar that in most cases, statistics were elusive, but he said he hoped that every international organization that tried to analyse the status of the Palestinian economy saw the real reasons for the degradation and learned the “measure” of the deterioration and its causes. It was important to note that not every growth in gross domestic product (GDP) was a reflection of economic development, but could be the result of international assistance flows. Similarly, an increase in trade balance was not really an improvement for the Palestinian people, but perhaps an easing of the blockade. Everyone knew there was no way to develop a small economy except to open it up to the outside world. He was concerned that assistance flows to the Palestinian people and their economy was a tool of the international community to confine the economy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and, in fact, assist the Israeli market.
The stricter the restrictions were, the more assistance was needed, but the converse was also true, he said. The Palestinian people were productive and constructive. Even amid repeated Israeli acts of aggression, they started again to rebuild. The Palestinian people were not happy to be at the forefront of aid recipients, and only looked forward to the opportunity to produce and work in a proper climate and “shake off the yoke of old restrictions”.
During the exchange that followed, a debate ensued about whether it was possible to measure the losses and damages incurred to the Palestinian economy from the occupation. One speaker, on the question of compensation, said it should be taken into account that there was a difference between the Iraq/Kuwait situation and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. There was a similarity, but also “sharp” differences, he said. Perhaps, echoing a suggestion made earlier, an inventory of the economic damages of the occupation should be created.
Also on the issue of “measuring” damages, another speaker noted that when one Palestinian civilian was killed or injured by Israeli occupying forces, the negative impacts were multidimensional on his or her family and society — they were social, psychological and economical.
Afifi Abdel-Wahab, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative of Egypt to the Arab League, said the Seminar’s participants had reaffirmed the international community’s support of United Nations efforts to assess the socio-economic implications of Israeli occupation and mitigate its effects on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. Egypt was following the issues related to Palestine in its capacity as a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and it carried out that role in international forums with the aim of restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The interventions at the Seminar supported the international agreement that there was a need to create appropriate economic conditions in the Palestinian Territory via coordinated international endeavour.
He said that the revolution of 25 January and the historical changes in the Arab region had given new impetus to restoring the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Israel should be aware of those developments, and change its policy and return to the Palestinian people their rights in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora. Egypt reaffirmed its support of Palestinian rights and sought to restore them; it was committed to end the occupation and assist the Palestinian national reconciliation. Egypt also extended its support to the Seminar for its noble objective.
Mr. Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said there were so many ways to tell the story of the Palestinian people and the devastation of the occupation on the Palestinian economy. The high turnout at a high level at the Seminar was an indication that despite the many things happening in the Arab world and the global economy, the Palestinian question was still very important. The meeting had been held in Egypt because of the historical relationship and because it was an opportunity “to make a huge statement as an international community” about the need to put an end to the unfair, illegal and immoral blockade against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Egypt was the gateway to Gaza and the Seminar was sending a loud and clear message to end the blockade.
Egypt, he said, was also where the reconciliation agreement had been signed on 4 May 2011 and where leaders would soon converge again to forge an agreement that all Palestinian factions within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would reform the “Government of technocrats” to prepare for elections and Gaza’s reconstruction, and begin to put an end to the illogical division of the “two wings” of the Palestinian homeland and political system. He added that, to date, 132 countries recognized the State of Palestine, and all indicated that the Palestinian people are ready to govern themselves. Palestine would not be a least developed country, but a State of middle-income capability.
“Why is occupation not ending?” he asked. It was because Israel disregarded international law and had a powerful country protecting it. Meanwhile, Palestinians were unifying their house, putting an end to the blockade, dealing with each other, designing a new strategy to pursue statehood at the United Nations, equipping themselves with additional tools, defending themselves in the legal arena and overall advancing their cause.
Summing up, Committee Chairman Diallo said the panellists in plenary sessions I and II had confirmed that the occupation imposed a huge price tag on the Palestinian economy. In plenary III, panellists had assessed the role of the international community, and donor community in particular, in assisting the creation of a sovereign, independent and economically viable State of Palestine.
Time for realizing the two-State solution was running out, he declared. The occupation must end without conditions, which should allow the Palestinian people to achieve the independence of the State of Palestine on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination. The Committee was of the view that the two-State solution should be based on the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Quartet Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
* *** *For information media • not an official record