|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
17th Meeting (PM)
‘Hurricane Sandy Every Day in the Camps,’ Fourth Committee Told during Debate
on Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
Speakers Commend Efforts by UNRWA; Israel Says Mandate
‘Undeniably Political’, Designed ‘to Keep Refugee Issue Alive’
The rapidly growing number of refugees was complicating the task of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today during the conclusion of its debate on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), even as delegates disagreed on how the refugee question should be resolved.
“It is Hurricane Sandy every day in the camps,” Malaysia’s representative declared of the refugee camps he had visited recently. Even as UNRWA continued to operate more than 600 schools and construct shelters for the refugees, the dire situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the blockade and the relentless expansion of settlements was destroying the ability of Palestinians to build a productive and peaceful future based on the two-State solution.
The Palestine refugees would not disappear into thin air, the representative of Lebanon stated, urging that they be given the right to return. That right was acknowledged in the Magna Carta in 1215 and codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, implementing international humanitarian law and resolutions seemed to be inconvenient for Israel, but acting according to law and normality was not a matter subject to convenience.
In that vein, Egypt’s delegate expressed concern about the persistence of Israel’s denial and violation of the rights of the Palestine refugees, millions of whom remained in the refugee camps established for them decades ago throughout the region. Israel’s illegal practices had extended to targeting UNRWA personnel and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and had obstructed the Agency’s ability to uphold the mandate given to it by the General Assembly.
Countering those and other concerns voiced today, Israel’s delegate said that despite calls to separate the political and humanitarian aspects of UNRWA’s work, its mandate was “undeniably political” and designed specifically “to keep the Palestinian refugee issue alive”. While the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees aimed to reintegrate refugees, UNRWA’s mandate perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status and, since such status – unlike any other refugee population – was automatically passed from generation to generation, the population under UNRWA’s care would continue to grow exponentially.
Turning to the question of UNRWA’s finances, she said that the Agency was using humanitarian funds to finance its advocacy for the Palestinian cause. As for accusations that Israel was hindering UNRWA’s work, the country was only preventing the movement of arms, weapons and materials. It would take “direct negotiations and painful compromises” to solve the conflict, and the Palestinians should take Israel’s outstretched hand and sit down at the negotiating table, instead of simply offering the “same empty rhetoric” in international forums.
The representative of the United States, the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, expressed concern about the Agency’s chronic funding shortfalls. Urging those Governments that had hosted Palestinian refugees for many years to “continue the legacy of protection”, he added that UNRWA must continue its efforts to expand the Agency’s funding base and “maximize value for money” in its management of limited donor funding.
A number of countries also expressed concern over the conditions of refugees in conflict-afflicted Syria. The representative of Iceland stated that violence and displacement resulting from the conflict in Syria was intensifying the humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees. As many as 225,000 had been directly affected by the conflict and thousands had been forced to leave their homes, displacing many of them for the second time in their lives.
The representative of Tunisia said that it was important that UNRWA be given the appropriate means to continue to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees in Syria, and he called on all parties in the conflict to respect the neutrality and integrity of United Nations installations and areas where Palestinian refugees resided.
The Syrian representative, expressing regret that Palestinian refugees were among the victims claimed by the current crisis, stated that his country hosted more than half a million Palestine refugees, and treated them like Syrian citizens. Had it not been for the measures taken by concerned authorities in Syria to protect them, the damages would have been bigger, he said.
Also speaking were the representatives of Senegal, Namibia, Libya, Lesotho, Turkey, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, Vietnam, and Morocco.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the representative of Turkey.
UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, made a closing statement.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 8 November to continue its consideration of peacekeeping.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
GEORGES FAKHRY ( Lebanon) recalled that on the cold Thursday afternoon of 8 December 1949 the General Assembly had established UNRWA to respond to the needs of the refugees from Palestine. It was, however, not well-known that on the cold Wednesday afternoon of 10 March 1948, a group of 11 men, leaders in Israel, had put the final touches on the ethnic cleansing plan for Palestine. Evoking the renowned Israeli historian, Professor Ilan Pappe, he went on to say that the plan had come with a detailed description of the methods to evict people from their property, including large-scale intimidation, setting fires to homes and goods, demolishing them and even planting mines in the rubble to prevent inhabitants from returning. The plan had been highly effective.
International humanitarian law and resolutions seemed to be inconvenient for Israel to implement, he added, but acting according to law and normality was not a matter subject to convenience. If the rights of Palestinians to have their own State were left to negotiations, if the right of return, a right acknowledged since the Magna Carta in 1215 and codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was left to Israel’s convenience, then Israel would be granted the right to veto the right to self-determination and the right of peoples to return to their home.
A just settlement of the refugee question, he emphasized, was instrumental to the peace process. The refugees continued to live in extremely difficult circumstances. However, they would not disappear into thin air, nor would the people around the world who supported their just cause. Lebanon was actively working with UNRWA to improve the living conditions of refugees in the country. Further, not only had his country eased restrictions on refugees to enter the labour market, but the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee had been revitalized.
RIADH BEN SLIMAN ( Tunisia) commended UNRWA along with the host countries that cooperated with it, and expressed his appreciation for its staff who, despite difficult working conditions, had demonstrated their dedication to the protection and care of Palestinian refugees. There were concerns, however, over the serious challenges the Agency faced, particularly its funding shortfalls, as well as the policies and actions of Israel that made it difficult for UNRWA to deliver services. Israel was required to further ease restrictions on the movement of Agency staff and to expedite the transportation of humanitarian materials.
A significant number of Palestinian refugees were among the casualties of the armed conflict in Syria, he said. The implications of the situation in Syria on the stability and protection of the half million Palestinian refugees across that country were deeply concerning. It was important that UNRWA be given the appropriate means to continue to ensure the protection of those refugees, and he called on all parties in the conflict to respect the neutrality and integrity of United Nations installations and of areas where Palestinian refugees resided.
In conclusion, he said it was important that the international community continued to demonstrate its full support and commitment to UNRWA’s noble task by mobilizing resources and expanding the scope of donor countries and institutions. Such support would significantly help the Agency to continue its ongoing reforms and thereby use its resources more effectively.
IHAB HAMED( Syria), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA was alleviating the sufferings of millions of Palestinian refugees. That was a political, legal and moral responsibility even before it was a humanitarian responsibility. A whole nation had found itself a victim of external, colonial interests. The international community was totally paralyzed regarding the application of General Assembly resolutions dealing with the Israeli occupation, thus encouraging Israel to pursue its settlement policies.
Indeed, it was strange that the same States that provided Israel illegal protection against the implementation of United Nations resolutions considered themselves as defenders of human rights “here and there”. Calling that trend scandalous, he said the United Nations should not remain silent as such inaction undermined the Organization’s credibility.
He said that Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees were not merely host countries but donor countries, as they provided services to those refugees. Syria hosted more than half a million Palestine refugees, provided them with various forms of support and treated them like Syrian citizens. In 2011, Syria had spent some $233 million dollars to support those refugees. That was an increase of $8 million compared to 2010, despite the difficult conditions in Syria. His country also actively supported UNRWA efforts to carry out its mandate. While he regretted that Palestinian refugees were among the victims claimed by the current crisis that Syria was facing, had it not been for the measures taken by concerned authorities in Syria to protect them, the damages would have been bigger, he concluded.
FATOU ISIDORA MARA NIANG( Senegal) commended the outstanding work of UNRWA and said that since 1948, a majority of the Palestinian population had been forced into exile, creating a precarious situation that she profoundly condemned. The Palestinian refugees represented a “special case” due to the duration of their banishment and the indignities they had suffered. She regretted that the relevant resolutions had not been implemented even though they represented a rational basis for an end to the conflict. The international community could no longer turn a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians.
Continuing, she said that UNRWA provided vital aid and assistance to some 5 million refugees, and it was a particular pleasure to highlight the Agency’s forward-looking vision, which focused on education and health care. However, despite its noble ambitions, the Agency faced substantial financial difficulties which risked the proper execution of its mission. She called on the international community and all partners and donors to pull together and support the Agency’s work, which was all the more vital given the recent events in the Arab world, which had further aggravated the plight of refugees in the countries concerned. Further, she reiterated her delegation’s call for a revision of the 1974 framework whereby only a tiny fraction of UNRWA expenses were covered by the regular budget of the United Nations. In conclusion, she expressed her sincere gratitude and encouragement to all the host countries that had offered, for many decades, their hospitality to millions of refugees forced into exile.
GRETA GUNNARSDOTTIR ( Iceland) stated that the situation of the Palestine refugees in Syria was a matter of great concern to her country. Violence and displacement resulting from the conflict continued to intensify the humanitarian needs of those refugees. As many as 225,000 refugees had been directly affected by the conflict and thousands had been forced to leave their homes, displacing many of them for the second time in their lives. Iceland applauded UNRWA efforts to assist the Palestinian refugees affected by the conflict.
The situation of Palestine refugees in East Jerusalem and Area C was also of great concern, she added. The Israeli practice of demolishing homes, basic infrastructure and sources of livelihoods continued to devastate refugee families. The same went for settlement activities, including the construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land. Iceland was concerned about the village of Al-Walajeh, which was being encircled by the Wall, and its mainly refugee population.
Further, she said, the United Nations had recently estimated that Gaza would no longer be liveable by 2020 unless urgent action was taken to improve water supply, power, health and basic education. Reiterating Iceland’s’ position that the blockade against Gaza was contrary to international humanitarian laws, she asked for it to be lifted immediately. Turning to the protracted financial deficit that UNRWA faced, she stressed that the current situation was financially unsustainable. Even though the Agency was never meant to be permanent, it was badly needed until a just solution was found for the refugees.
JEROBEAM SHAANIKA (Namibia), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, called for additional funding from the United Nations regular budget for UNRWA, so that the Agency could continue providing essential programs and services, such as education, health care, vocational training, and emergency relief. Such assistance to refugees was a responsibility that the United Nations was morally bound to discharge. The moral trumpet had been summoning the conscience of the international community to be compassionate with the people of Palestine until the realization of their most cherished dream, an independent and viable State of Palestine.
While the strengthening of UNRWA was critical to the Agency’s operational success, he said that the issue of occupation, which remained the source of the Palestinians’ suffering, must not be forgotten. The Palestinians deserved to live in dignity and were entitled to create a State of their own. Thus, Namibia supported the admission of Palestine into the United Nations as a full member.
IMAD TAGURI (Libya), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that UNRWA had been established to address the needs of tens of thousands of Palestine refugees, and that 60 years later, there were 5 million refugees who struggled on a daily basis to meet their livelihoods. Welcoming the achievements of the Agency, he added that they were impressive not only because of the increased number of refugees, but also because of the arbitrary measures adopted by the occupying Power.
He said that Israel had used its security concerns and other administrative measures as a pretext and had attacked UNRWA vehicles, thus flouting United Nations conventions. Solving the problem of the refugees required the ending of Israel’s occupation. Palestine refugees must be given the right of self-determination, the right to return and the right to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as capital, he concluded.
MAFIROANE EDMOND MOTANYANE ( Lesotho), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed regret that the hope of Palestinians for a better future continued to recede from sight. Israel’s blockade of Gaza was an overarching problem that severely impaired UNRWA work and prevented it from implementing vital construction projects. Despite Israel’s statements in support of the Agency, “its action did not equate with its words”, he pointed out. Not only did the blockade amount to a collective punishment of innocent civilians, it crippled the economy of Palestine.
Underscoring the chronic problem of UNRWA’s inadequate funding, which had been exacerbated by the ongoing global financial crisis, he said that the Agency’s status as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly dictated that adequate funding should be a priority. The importance of predictable funding to the Agency could not be over-emphasized. He called on all States to consider making financial contributions, and urged UNRWA to continue seeking ways to operate more effectively and efficiently.
He continued, stating that he regretted the loss of life among UNRWA staff, and called upon the occupying Power to protect such personnel, as well as protect United Nations property and premises in accordance with its obligations under international law. In conclusion, he reiterated Lesotho’s unwavering support to UNRWA for its service to the Palestine refugees, and called upon the international community to combine efforts to ensure that the two-States solution, with Israel and Palestine co-existing side by side in peace and security, became a reality.
RICHARD ERDMAN ( United States) said that UNRWA provided humanitarian assistance and basic services to approximately five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza. Thanks to the longstanding support of donors and hosts, UNRWA humanitarian programmes, including education, health and social services, had improved the lives of millions. UNRWA’s commitment to peace and tolerance had served as a vital force for stability in the region.
The United States, he added, was proud to be the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, contributing more than $233 million in 2012, including $125 million to the Agency’s core budget. His country was deeply concerned about the Agency’s inability to continue to provide critical humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees in the face of its chronic shortfalls. Donors, hosts, and UNRWA must determine how to move forward together to confront the serious financial challenges facing the organization. Commending the continuing generosity of those Governments that had hosted Palestinian refugees for many years, he urged them to “continue the legacy of protection.” UNRWA must continue its efforts to expand the Agency’s funding base and maximize value for money in its management of limited donor funding, he added, calling on Governments to share that international responsibility.
YASAR HALIT CEVIK ( Turkey), Chair of the Working Group on the financing of UNRWA, highlighted the many challenges the Agency faced in fulfilling its mandate, including a greater number of refugees, sociopolitical developments in the Middle East and North Africa, the ongoing crisis in Syria, and the continuing illegal blockade of Gaza. In light of those challenges, the Agency’s prospect of success was directly linked with the timely support that the international community could provide.
Last month, he said, his predecessor had sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly and other high-level officials, including the Heads of the Arab League and the African Union, to name a few, calling attention to the dire financial situation of the Agency. If not funded, UNRWA would not be able to pay its personnel in December.
He also noted that in Gaza, UNRWA’s emergency appeal was less than 50 per cent funded. Nevertheless, he expressed gratitude to all of the traditional supporters of UNRWA, new donors, and those who had increased their donations. He urged all States to fully support the Agency, and affirmed that Turkey would continue to support its Palestinian sisters and brothers during this difficult period.
VINOD JACOB ( India) said that support for the Palestinian cause had been “a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy”. His country also endorsed Palestine’s bid for full and equal membership in the United Nations. During a recent visit by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to India, memorandums of understanding had been signed to strengthen India’s contribution in the areas of information and communications technology, vocational training and education. India had announced a contribution of $10 million to help address Palestine’s financial requirements. Also during the visit, Mr. Abbas had inaugurated the new Palestinian Embassy building, which had been constructed with India’s support. “The building is a symbol of the enduring friendship between our two countries and its people,” the speaker said.
India, he went on, had increased its annual contribution to UNRWA to $1 million, starting with the 2009-2010 financial year, he said. That was in addition to a special contribution of $1 million to that body in response to a flash appeal in 2010. Over the past three years, India had also annually contributed $10 million in “united budgetary support” to the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, India invested in several projects in Palestine through the India-Brazil-South Africa Trust Fund, including a multipurpose sports complex in Ramallah and a centre for assisting people with severe intellectual disabilities in Nablus. The immediate challenge facing UNRWA was chronic underfunding, which adversely impacted the quality and level of services. Noting that the blockage of Gaza had entered its sixth year, he said such restrictions had not only caused hardship to the population, but also limited the movement of UNRWA staff members, hindering that entity’s work. Israel should lift the blockade and allow the resumption of normal socioeconomic activities there.
MOHAMED SARWAT SELIM (Egypt), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that his country was deeply concerned about the persistence of Israel’s denial and violation of the rights of the Palestine refugees, millions of whom remained in the refugee camps established for them decades ago throughout the region. Israel’s illegal practices had extended to targeting UNRWA personnel and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and had obstructed the Agency’s ability to uphold the mandate given to it by the General Assembly.
He called for the full lifting of the Israeli blockade, which had been unjustly imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than five years. The occupying Power must cease its restrictions on the import of necessary construction materials, which were vital for allowing the Agency to proceed with the reconstruction of the damaged refugee shelters, vital civilian infrastructure, and the desperately-needed schools to accommodate children in the Gaza Strip.
He went on to say that he was alarmed by the occupying Power’s growing trend that aimed at discrediting and intimidating different United Nations bodies and organizations. His country fully supported the steps taken by the Palestinian leadership in order to achieve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP ( Brazil) said that UNRWA had made an outstanding contribution to relieving the plight of the Palestinians and enhancing their living conditions over the past 60 years. She also recognized the help provided to the Agency by its Palestinian staff on the ground, “whose skilled work and determination constitute yet another proof of the Palestinians’ capacity to build a State of their own.” Four generations of Palestinians had benefitted from the Agency’s services, and she urged that, in light of the current stalemate in the peace process and the persisting Israeli occupation, it was “high time that we redouble our efforts to assist UNRWA with substantial financial and political support.”
Turing to the Gaza Strip, she underscored that the international community needed to act with urgency, and she called upon developed countries in particular to quickly increase contributions to the Agency. Member States must not allow UNRWA to run out of the means to accomplish its mission. For its part, Brazil had gradually been increasing its voluntary contributions and, with bilateral and multilateral partners, was fostering several cooperation initiatives for the well-being of the Palestinian people. In closing, she stated, “We understand that building and sustaining peace is a daily endeavour, and that it is much harder for stability to take root where poverty and lack of opportunities prevail.”
HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA was to be commended for its consistent and unwavering contribution to elevate the plight of the Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. As a member of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, he had visited the refugee camps in neighbouring countries in July. UNRWA currently operated more than 600 schools, provided basic healthcare and food services, and constructed shelters for the refugees.
Palestinians continued to bear the brunt of the occupying Power, he added, as Israel continued to violate international law, particularly humanitarian and human rights laws. The dire situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the continued blockade of Gaza and the illegal but relentless expansion of settlements were attempts to slowly destroy the ability of Palestinians to build a productive and peaceful future based on the two-State solution.
Malaysia was also deeply concerned with the Agency’s current financial status. If the international community could not bring about a political solution to the Palestinian question, the minimum to be done was providing enough funding from the United Nations regular budget for the work of UNRWA. Malaysia sought the cooperation of colleagues in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to show support for the work of UNRWA by according higher allocation to fund that important organization. Having only 57 per cent of its expenditure from the United Nations regular budget was not enough, and the amount should be increased to the rate of 85 to 90 per cent.
“It was Hurricane Sandy everyday in those camps,” he added, again recalling his visits. Malaysia has been a firm supporter of UNRWA and was a consistent contributor to the funding needs of UNRWA since 1978. Further, Malaysian non-governmental organizations and volunteers had been active in contributing in-kind assistance to the people of Palestine.
ABDULMOHSEN F.A. ALYAS ( Saudi Arabia) thanked the staff of UNRWA, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims who had lost their lives in the course of carrying out their work. Turning to UNRWA’s funding shortage of $37 million, he reiterated his call to the international community, and to institutions, to increase contributions to the Agency. More staff and more resources were needed to implement programs, establish health centres and build schools. Conscious of the important role of the Agency, Saudi Arabia had increased its support and now occupied the third place among the main contributors.
Continuing, he said that he strongly condemned the illegal activities of Israel, especially the new settlement project in the West Bank and the continued, unjustified blockade of Gaza. He called for an immediate lifting of all restrictive measures, and for demolition of the separation wall that had been built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Further, he called for Israel to compensate UNRWA for damages to its buildings and facilities. In conclusion, he said that the Israeli occupation was the only occupation in the world today, and reminded the Committee of his Government’s active role and contributions to the peace process.
IBTESAM ALKHAYYAL ( United Arab Emirates) said his delegation was concerned about the social and human conditions of the Palestinian people, and especially the refugees, whether they were in the occupied territories or neighbouring countries. The violations of the occupying Power targeted not only Palestinian people and their properties but also reached the programmes and facilities of UNRWA. The United Arab Emirates believed that the measures taken to ease the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip were insufficient. The international community must exercise more pressure on Israel so that the blockade would be totally lifted, allowing for the normalization of life in the area.
A just solution to the Palestinian question, he continued, must include the right to return of the Palestine people to their homes and compensation for the tremendous moral and financial losses they had suffered. The United Arab Emirates called for the provision of total protection to the Palestinian refugees, be they inside the Occupied Territories or in the diasporas. The dire financial shortage faced by UNRWA would hamper its ability to provide services as well as emergency assistance to the Palestinian refugees. The United Arab Emirates pledged to continue its political and financial support to UNRWA and called on member States to step up efforts to enable UNRWA to perform its mandate.
NAOKI TAKAHASHI ( Japan) said that the crisis in Syria underlined the critical importance of UNRWA for that region. Even before its accession to the United Nations, Japan had initiated assistance to Palestinians through the Agency in 1953, providing it with approximately $700 million to date as part of its overall efforts toward realization of peace in the Middle East. His country attached particular importance to education and training for Palestinian youth, who would hold the responsibility for a future Palestinian State in their hands. Towards the creation of a solid economic, administrative and human resource foundation for their State, Japan would continue to advance an initiative for the development of the Jordan Valley, a series of non-project grants-in-aid to the Palestinian Authority, and its coordinated efforts with other East Asian countries that contributed to Palestinian State-building efforts.
Concerned over UNRWA’s financial situation, he said that his country had made an additional contribution of $10 million this year that focused on family health team system reforms. He urged the entire international community to remain steadfast in its support of UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, including those affected by the crisis in Syria. At the same time, he welcomed improvements in the Agency’s administration and operations, saying that he hoped the Agency would achieve tangible improvements in its efficiency and effectiveness. Noting Commissioner-General Grandi’s visit to Japan this year, he reiterated his country’s commitment to supporting the Agency.
MD. MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN(Bangladesh), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted with great appreciation UNRWA’s continuing pursuit to provide efficient, quality services to Palestinian refugees in all five fields of the Agency’s operation. While he had full confidence in the Agency, he expressed his grave concerns about the security of its staff, despite repeated calls to the Israeli authorities to ensure their safety. Further, he urged that information on detained staff be provided to UNRWA, and that restrictions that hindered UNRWA’s activities be lifted, in accordance with the relevant resolutions.
Continuing, he said that he had witnessed, with utter frustration since December 2007, illegal Israeli operations in the West Bank, including unabated and intensive military operations, and expanding settlements, which his country strongly condemned. Meanwhile, stating his appreciation for assistance to Palestinians by donor and host countries, he urged the international community to come forward with further support. Concluding, he reiterated his appreciation for the Commissioner General and the staff of UNRWA for their commitment and hard work in the face of continued adversities.
FAYSAL ALZAYANI ( Bahrain) stated that the work of UNRWA was enabling refugees to access basic services and facilities that they needed. The Agency had also launched a reform process which had buttressed its capacity to provide services to the refugees with enhanced efficiency.
Lauding the comprehensive reform of the Agency as a positive development, he noted that in his report, the Secretary-General had underscored the remarkable progress of UNRWA in financial management. The funding deficit in the regular budget of the Agency was a responsibility that the international community must shoulder together.
He went on to say that the shortfall was the result of a lack of contributions to the Agency’s funds and it must be addressed immediately so that the humanitarian operations would not be impeded. Moreover, the structural deficit prevented the Agency from meeting the growing needs of new refugees. UNRWA played an important role not only in fulfilling its mandate of assisting refugees, but also in the dissemination of the values of the United Nations.
IDIT ABU ( Israel) thanked UNRWA’s Commissioner for his statement, but said that it was filled with “significant omissions of both facts and context”, some of which she would address. First, she said that despite calls to separate the political and humanitarian aspects of UNRWA’s work, the Agency’s mandate was “undeniably political”, and designed specifically “to keep the Palestinian refugee issue alive”. While the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aimed to reintegrate refugees into society, UNRWA’s mandate perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status, and since such status – unlike any other refugee population – was automatically passed from generation to generation, the population under UNRWA’s care would continue to grow exponentially.
Clarifying her position, she said she was not suggesting the dismantling of UNRWA, but an examination of its mandate. She also highlighted that the Palestinian Authority delegated the care of Palestinian refugees exclusively to UNRWA, even though it had the means to care for them itself. Continuing, she said that UNRWA was using humanitarian funds to finance its advocacy for the Palestinian cause, including $5 million last year that was spent on opening and expanding offices in Washington and Geneva, respectively.
Further, she said that despite accusations that Israel was hindering UNRWA’s work, her country was doing its utmost to facilitate the Agency’s operations, while preventing the movement of arms, weapons and materials that could potentially be used as such. Meanwhile, she pointed out the lack of donors to UNRWA among Arab countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. In closing, she hoped that the international community would soon examine the real reasons for UNRWA’s continued deficits, and have the courage to say that humanitarian funds and organizations were not meant to be used to sustain a political issue. The conflict could only be solved through direct negotiations and painful compromises, and thus she hoped that the Palestinians would take Israel’s “outstretched hand” and sit down at the negotiating table, instead of simply offering the “same empty rhetoric” in international forums.
YANWEI ZHU ( China) commended UNRWA for its devotion and invaluable contribution to the lives of Palestinian refugees, and for achieving encouraging results under adverse circumstances. He expressed his concern, however, that the humanitarian situation of many Palestinians remained grave, and that the Gaza blockade had made conditions on the ground even more deplorable. He called on Israel to lift the blockade and provide unimpeded access for humanitarian goods, construction materials, and other important items.
Further, he called on the international community to closely follow the situation of refugees, and to increase assistance to the socioeconomic development of Palestine. As an “energetic” supporter of UNRWA, China was deeply concerned by the Agency’s funding shortfall and the threats faced by its staff. China would continue to do its utmost to provide assistance to the Agency. In closing, he said that China had always supported the goal of an independent Palestinian state, and was in favour of Palestine having full membership in the United Nations. At the same time, he said that Palestinians and Israelis should “push ahead” in working towards a two-state solution.
PHAM VINH QUANG ( Viet Nam) said despite UNRWA’s continued programme delivery, he was gravely concerned about the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process, the volatile situation in the Gaza Strip and the issue of Palestinian refugees. Given that poverty remained high in the Gaza Strip, with one million dependent on international aid, and that realities of an ongoing blockade, hundreds of military operations and other factors, including the spread of settlements, the occupying Power still affected the life of the entire Palestinian population, he said.
In view of that scenario, he called on Israel to cease all military and settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and to end its blockade. Appealing to all parties concerned to abide by international humanitarian and human rights laws and to extend the necessary cooperation to relief operations with a view to mitigating hardships of the Palestinian people, he emphasized the need to provide safety and convenience so UNRWA staff members could carry out their difficult work. He also called for intensified efforts by the international community, particularly the Security Council and the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process, to address the current political and humanitarian crises and to promote just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli and the Arab-Israel conflicts. He said Viet Nam had recognized the state of Palestine and would support its legitimate request for United Nations membership.
ABDELLATIF ERROJA( Morocco) stated that the peace process in the Middle East faced a huge challenge due to obstacles raised by the Israeli regime. The settlement policy in the villages had turned the lives of millions of Palestinians into “a nightmare”. Israel was attempting to present a fait accompli that would prevent the two-state solution. Israeli authorities were trying to alter the historical demographic by forcing Palestinians to emigrate. That was a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Israel was duty-bound to honour its commitments pursuant to international law. Further, Israel must respect the Al-Quds mosque, as otherwise it would undermine its own international credibility. Any changes made to Al-Quds would alter the spiritual role of the city and be a significant provocation.
On human rights in the occupied territories, he underscored the importance of remembering the plight of thousands of political prisoners and those detained administratively and being held without legal representation. Such detainees included peaceful activists. Turning to UNRWA, he said that the lack of funding was threatening the Agency’s programmes and would have a disastrous impact on refugees. In conclusion, Morocco supported the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to build an independent State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Right of Reply
The representative of Turkey, exercising the right of reply in response to the statement by the representative of Israel, called attention to two recent Security Council resolutions, one of which condemned the cross-border shooting from Syria into Turkey and expressed condolences for the consequent loss of life, and the other which condemned the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, thanked delegations for their messages of support, and for their condolences, adding that he was encouraged by the solidarity that had been expressed. He acknowledged that the Palestinian refugees faced different challenges depending on where they were located. The refugees in Syria had been hosted in a very respectful way for many decades, but the present situation clearly demonstrated their vulnerability. He reassured delegates that UNRWA would continue to deliver its services, despite the many difficulties highlighted during the discussion. The Agency would continue to advocate for them, as that was an integral part of its mandate, he said, adding that advocacy was not equal to politics. The Agency would also continue its reform process that it had started in 2006, if resources permitted.
He said he remained concerned by statements that had been made in the past few months attacking the Agency, which called for its dismantling and argued that it was the cause of the refugee problem. However, he clarified that such attacks had not come from any government, but by groups that nonetheless could be influential in some countries. He also remained very concerned by developments in Syria, and he appealed very strongly to all parties in the conflict and to those who had influence in it, to avoid at all cost any participation by Palestinian refugees, which would only be detrimental to both the refugees themselves and to the conflict itself.
Concerning Gaza, he clarified that the ongoing restrictions did not apply to humanitarian goods – and that had been true even during the strictest period of the blockade. After 2010, there had been an easing of the blockade, and UNRWA had agreed with the Government of Israel on a system of clearance for projects that involved the importation of building materials. What remained almost completely forbidden was the export of goods, which, while not part of UNRWA’s operation, was of interest to UNRWA, as exports could strengthen the economy in Gaza and reduce dependency. In that respect, UNRWA believed that the blockade was contrary to international law and should be lifted, as it was not the proper response to Israel’s legitimate security concerns, but rather, exacerbated tensions.
On the issue of resources, he clarified two points. First, while he acknowledged the importance of the financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority, he said those did not benefit UNRWA. Second, while it was true that that the Agency had received an additional $5 million in the Organization’s last biennium budget, it was not true that a large part of those funds had gone to establishing an office in Washington. The liaison office in Washington was very small. Further, the Agency was going to close the office in Geneva.
Concluding, he thanked the European Union, Switzerland and Malaysia, who had announced they would be making additional contributions this year, and appealed to countries in Latin America, Asia and the Arab region to increase their contributions or to make contributions if they had not already done so. He also thanked those delegates who had expressed support for the expansion of the Agency’s donor base, in particular, Japan. Finally, noting that it was the absence of a political solution - which did not depend on UNRWA - that perpetuated the Palestinians’ status as refugees, he appealed to the Fourth Committee to remain focused on the urgent need to bring a close to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
* *** *For information media • not an official record