Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa
Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations
25th Special Session of the General Assembly
For an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Habitat Agenda
United Nations, New York, 6 June 2001
The convening of this Special Session of the General Assembly is of paramount importance to the international community. It comes at a most appropriate time in the development of human settlements - a time in which high population growth, urbanization and globalization are prominent issues requiring our serious attention. Today the world's population has reached 6 billion people, half of whom live in cities and face slow economic growth, deteriorating environmental conditions, inadequate housing, poverty, a rise in the influx of refugees, ongoing armed conflict and a lack of even the most basic services. Our review of progress made and the remaining obstacles in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and Istanbul Declaration and taking further initiatives for their full implementation are important steps in confronting the challenges in this arena in the new millennium. These steps will also help in creating an enabling environment for achieving sustainable human settlement development. At the same time, of course, innovative, concrete action and additional resources are urgently required.
As we are aware, progress had been made in the implementation of some of the Habitat Agenda's goals and objectives, particularly regarding two major issues: adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlement development in an urban world. However, these gains fall short of the international community's commitments. The failure to address impediments in this regard will seriously impact all populations in the years and decades to come. Greater attention needs to be given to, inter alia, urbanization, globalization, and the accompanying social and economic problems. Indeed, the urbanization of poverty is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today, and overpopulated cities are burdened with numerous other explosive problems requiring immediate action. All of these problems are more acute in the developing countries, particularly the African nations. Close to 50% of the African population presently lives in poverty and faces, inter alia, inadequate urban housing and limited access to the basic services such as water, sanitation, and waste management. In addition, one of every five Africans lives in a country severely disrupted by war or civil conflicts.
The people of Palestine also suffer many of the same problems faced by other peoples in the developing world. However, the Palestinian people are also faced with an additional and specific problem that requires an urgent and special solution. For the past 34 years, the Palestinian people have been subject to foreign occupation by Israel. The harsh policies and practices and oppressive measures of the occupying Power have affected every aspect of Palestinian life, including all social and economic aspects, and have threatened their very existence and survival.
The most serious issue in this regard is the colonization of the Occupied
Palestinian Territory through the transfer of the civilian population of
the occupying Power to the Occupied Territory, the establishment of Israeli
settlements and the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land. To this day,
the occupying Power continues to build and expand settlements, transfer
settlers, build bypass roads, and confiscate more and more Palestinian land and natural resources for such activities, which are all illegal under international law. These settlement activities have aimed at altering of the legal status, geographic nature, and demographic composition of the Occupied Territory. Today, there are more than 200 Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. Despite the existence of a peace process, no Israeli government has ceased its illegal activities in this regard. The current and long-term consequences of this Israeli practice pose a serious detriment to the living conditions of the Palestinian people, including efforts for sustainable development, and to any prospects for peace in the region.
The impact of Israel's illegal settlement activities has been particularly severe in Occupied East Jerusalem. There the Israeli government has been expropriating Palestinian land and building and expanding settlements at a feverish pace for decades in total disregard of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. In addition to altering the city's municipal boundaries, the occupying Power's practices in this regard, which have aimed at judaization of the city, have altered the geographic nature and demographic composition of Jerusalem and have affected the historical and cultural character of the city as well.
Another issue regarding the human settlements that has been of prominence on the Palestinian agenda for decades is the plight of the Palestine refugees and displaced persons. Since 1948, the Palestine refugees, who now number approximately 3.8 million people and who represent the world's largest and longest-standing refugee population, have lived in what were intended to be temporary camps and shelters, awaiting their return to their homes and properties. For more than 53 years, these refugees have lived in severely cramped and crowded dwellings, lacking basic services such as adequate sanitation systems and paved roads, surrounded by an underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure. In fact, the refugee camps of Gaza are among the most densely populated parcels of land in the world. Moreover, the poverty and unemployment rates faced by the Palestine refugee population are severe and have continued to rise astronomically during the recent turmoil that has once again befallen the Palestinian people under occupation.
In this regard, the current uprising (intifada) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, has been met with severely debilitating practices by the occupying Power. This has included the excessive and disproportionate use of force and violence against the Palestinian civilian population, resulting in hundreds of deaths, including of children, and tens of thousands of injuries. It has also involved all forms of collective punishment, including the demolition of homes, uprooting of trees and agricultural land, vast infrastructural damage, and severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, which have greatly affected access to employment, education and health care. Ail of this has seriously affected the socioeconomic conditions of the Palestinian people, exacerbating existing problems, including those associated with the issues of urbanization and population growth. In this regard, the situation has, inter alia, worsened both urban and rural poverty, prevented any real progress toward sustainable development by the Palestinian people, and precluded the direction of attention to other issues of importance as outlined in the Habitat Agenda.
During this Special Session, we would like to take this opportunity
to reaffirm the need for the international community to exert greater efforts
to speed the process of resolving the ongoing and tragic plight of the
Palestinian people. Efforts need to be undertaken to resolve the many problems
that continue to hinder implementation of the Istanbul Declaration and
Habitat Agenda, mainly: "to eradicate poverty and discrimination, to promote
and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and to provide
for basic needs such as education, nutrition and life-span, health care
services, and, especially, adequate shelter for all". The first and most
important step in this regard must be bringing an end to the Israeli occupation
of the Palestinian people.