LASTING PEACE MORE IMPORTANT THAN INTERNATIONAL AID IN IMPROVING HUMANITARIAN SITUATION OF PALESTINE REFUGEES, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

1 November 2006
GA/SPD/359

LASTING PEACE MORE IMPORTANT THAN INTERNATIONAL AID IN IMPROVING HUMANITARIAN SITUATION OF PALESTINE REFUGEES, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

1 November 2006
General Assembly
GA/SPD/359
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Fourth Committee

20th Meeting (PM)

LASTING PEACE MORE IMPORTANT THAN INTERNATIONAL AID IN IMPROVING HUMANITARIAN

SITUATION OF PALESTINE REFUGEES, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

Although international assistance was important for improving the humanitarian situation of Palestine refugees, it was more important to establish a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israel, Japan’s representative told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today as it continued its general debate on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

He said that, while his country expected the Palestinian Authority to work strenuously towards coexistence with Israel, it also expected Israel to support the efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas to break the current impasse.  In that regard, Japan looked forward to the early resumption of direct dialogue between President Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  A “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” would create prosperity through regional cooperation in the Jordan River valley.

Speakers expressed concern about the constant and marked socio-economic deterioration in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with Norway’s representative noting that the situation was most desperate in the Gaza Strip, where UNRWA provided the only safety net available.  Norway also remained deeply concerned about the violence, humiliation and poverty that were pushing the Palestinian population into a deep crisis, particularly as 60 per cent of them were below the age of 18.

Egypt’s representative said curfews and other restrictions on movement had increased the suffering in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, adding that Israel’s policy of blockades kept refugees from their families, work places, schools and medical services.  It was also important to remove all restrictions on UNRWA’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza refugee camps.

Addressing reform within the Agency, the representative of Switzerland said the work of the expanded Advisory Commission, as well as other management changes underway, were important in ensuring UNRWA’s effectiveness and improving partnerships and accountability.  More effective management and programming were key elements in maintaining donor support and meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees.

Other speakers this afternoon included the representatives of Viet Nam, Turkey, Qatar, India, the Sudan, Canada and China.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 2 November, to conclude its general debate on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  (For further background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/358 of 31 October.)

Statements

HOANG CHI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) said UNRWA had done an excellent job in discharging its mandate, making tremendous efforts to overcome obstacles and bring its services to Palestinian refugees.  Viet Nam applauded headway made in the implementation of its regular programmes over the past year and further commended the Agency for providing education, health and social services to people in need.  Thanks to UNRWA, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children had had the opportunity to attend school.  The United Nations was urged to give stronger support to the Agency in hopes it would continue its close cooperation with other agencies and organizations.

However, he expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Unemployment and poverty rates had increased dramatically in the past year.  A recent report by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that some two million Palestinians, constituting 51 per cent of the population, were unable to meet their daily food needs without assistance.  Viet Nam called on Israel to stop its military operations and lift the curfews in the area, as those activities hindered UNRWA’s efforts to support refugees.  Restrictions on the freedom of movement of Agency personnel, vehicles and goods were a matter of grave concern.  UNRWA must be fully respected and actions that impeded its normal work must be eliminated.

MIRJANA SPOLJARIC (Switzerland), reiterating her delegation’s support for the activities of the UNRWA, said the programmes developed in its four areas of focus had achieved results that were all the more impressive in the light of the particularly complex political and operational obstacles.  She was extremely concerned at the constant and marked deterioration of the socio-economic situation of Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She commended UNRWA’s efforts to improve coordination with other humanitarian organizations on the ground in needs assessments, emergency response and monitoring of humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.

She said the dedication and professionalism of the Agency’s staff in conflict situations had helped to alleviate the suffering of many civilians, refugees and non-refugees, who had been directly affected by hostilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Lebanon.  She strongly urged the competent authorities in all of UNRWA’s fields of operation to ensure safe and unimpeded access and called on the Israeli authorities to return to UNRWA without delay the taxes levied at the Karni crossing point.

The constructive work initiated in the framework of UNRWA’s enlarged Advisory Commission was a tangible renewal of international solidarity with the Palestinian refugees until a just and lasting solution based upon international law was found in the region.  She welcomed the fact that the process of institutional development of UNRWA was being managed in a participatory manner involving the Agency’s staff, which was its most precious asset.

AKIRA ENDO ( Japan) said UNRWA’s assistance to both Palestinian refugees and non-refugees was an important part of the Middle East peace process.  Japan’s assistance to the Palestinian people through the Agency had amounted to more than $520 million to date.  Total assistance since 1993 had totalled $870 million, with 30 per cent of that contribution implemented through UNRWA.  Aid had taken the form of humanitarian assistance, assistance for reforms and confidence-building efforts for a self-sustainable Palestinian economy.  Last July, after Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Israel and Palestine, Japan had decided to implement humanitarian assistance totalling $25 million to improve medical care, public health and employment.  UNRWA was an important partner for promoting human security.

As one of the major donors to UNRWA, Japan was focused on the Agency’s management reform efforts, he said.  In that context, Japan expected UNRWA to ensure transparency and accountability in its management and improve efficiency in the use of its resources, as those measures would lead to confidence-building between UNRWA and donor countries.  Although international assistance was important for improving the humanitarian situation for Palestinians, it was more important to establish a lasting peace and Japan looked forward to the early resumption of direct dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert.  As Japan strongly expected the Palestinian Authority to work towards achieving coexistence with Israel, it also expected Israel to support President Abbas’ efforts for breaking the current impasse.  Japan had proposed the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” concept, aimed at creating prosperity through regional cooperation in the Jordan River rift valley.  Japan was attempting to initiate an official level consultation with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. 

MUSTAFA LEVENT BILGEN ( Turkey) said all sides in the Middle East conflict should realize by now that violence or military measures alone could not resolve entrenched political problems.  It was to be hoped the Palestinians would succeed in their efforts to bring about a constructive atmosphere conducive to the establishment of their own State.  It was equally vital that Israel reciprocate accordingly and Turkey welcomed the declared willingness of both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to meet without preconditions.  While the Palestinian refugee issue awaited a just solution, the fundamental needs of the refugees must be met, despite challenging circumstances. 

He said that in the absence of a political process to erase the plight of the Palestine refugees, UNRWA had become a lifeline for them.  Turkey welcomed the progress made in reform within UNRWA aimed at increasing its efficiency and effectiveness, as well as the work of the expanded Advisory Commission, and endorsed the recommendations in the report of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA.  For 2006, Turkey had doubled to $500,000 its annual voluntary contribution to the Agency and had also provided in-kind assistance.  Furthermore, it channelled direct assistance to the “brotherly people” of Palestine through a plan of action that covered, among other things, security, education, public financing and institution–building.

AMR ELSHERBINI ( Egypt) said the suffering of Palestinian refugees was increasing due to the continued deterioration of conditions in the West Bank and Gaza and ongoing occupation practices.  Egypt was concerned about the increasing hardship that UNRWA faced as a result of occupation practices and the lack of prospects for a political settlement.  A comprehensive vision was needed. 

He said the ongoing deterioration in the humanitarian, political and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory must be addressed.  Movement restrictions and curfews had increased the suffering and Israel’s “blockade policy” had prevented refugees from accessing their families, places of work, schools and medical services.  It was important to remove all restrictions on UNRWA’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance.  Freedom of movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and across borders must be eased and Egypt called for the reopening of the Rafah border crossing, among others, to guarantee delivery of food and humanitarian assistance.  Egypt reemphasized the illegality of the wall in the West Bank and the importance of halting its construction, particularly as it had contributed to increased poverty. 

On other matters, he said UNRWA’s ability to continue work in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan could be negatively impacted by the suspension of peace negotiations aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian State.  Israel’s evacuation from all Arab territories occupied since 1967 should be the starting point for talks to reach a comprehensive settlement.  On UNRWA’s financial problems, Egypt called on donor countries to increase their contributions and welcome the enlargement of the Advisory Committee.

MOUZA AL-THANI ( Qatar) said the report outlined the suffering of the Palestine refugees and highlighted the invaluable efforts undertaken by UNRWA to provide relief.  Even after more than five decades, the Agency continued to provide essential services to some 4.3 million refugees, who needed its services now more than ever before.  The primary cause for that was the illegal Israeli occupation.

She said UNRWA’s services also had a positive impact on the stability of the region as a whole.  The period covered by the report had been characterized by the painful decline in the living conditions of the refugees and by the financing deficit of the regular budget.  The international community must remember that Palestine refugees should be supported until a just and lasting solution to the conflict, including the refugee problem, was achieved.  Qatar had spared no effort to extend material support to the refugees and would continue to do so.

IQBAL AHMED SARADGI (India), noting his country’s deep concern at the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, said support for the Palestinian cause had been a central feature of its foreign policy since before 1947.  India believed there could be no military solution to the Palestinian issue and had maintained consistently that violence was a serious impediment to the peace process.  The solution lay in pursuing political dialogue.  The Palestinian Authority economy had suffered immeasurably as a result of the conflict and the continued construction of the wall on Palestinian land threatened to prejudge the eventual outcome of final status negotiations between the parties.

In that context, UNRWA’s services were critically important, he said.  The Agency had an important role in addressing the multifaceted needs of Palestinian refugees, as the largest United Nations programme in the Middle East.  India called for an urgent easing of restrictions placed on Palestinian areas and an immediate improvement of the humanitarian crisis there.

India had supported Palestinians through assistance and medicine supply to the Palestinian Authority, he said, adding that the country was equally concerned over restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff, which had had a serious impact on the Agency’s ability to provide assistance.  India called for their quick removal.  UNRWA’s continued operations in the region were crucial to addressing the Palestinian humanitarian crisis and the international community particularly the Middle East Quartet must remain committed to providing support.

KHALID MOHAMMED ALI ( Sudan), emphasizing the difficult circumstances in which UNRWA worked, said the Agency had always provided good services to the Palestinian refugees.  The Sudan welcomed its efforts to improve the quality of its services, even though it faced an increased burden as a result of the deteriorating socio-economic circumstances in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The poverty had been exacerbated by the restrictions imposed on the movement of the Palestinian population and UNRWA staff by the Israeli authorities.  The escalation in Israeli actions had added to the difficulties the Agency faced.

He commended UNRWA for the services it had rendered to Palestinians in Lebanon during the war and thanked Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who had taken care of the refugees without discrimination.  The suffering of those refugees could only end with a just and lasting solution to the conflict, based on the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, which also guaranteed the right of return for refugees.  Concerned at the budget deficit, the Sudan invited all donors to increase their contribution to the Agency.

PER Ø. LANDEMOEN ( Norway), applauding UNRWA’s efforts to assist Palestinian refugees under often dangerous circumstances, said the Agency provided them with much needed relief and a life of dignity.  Nowhere was the situation more desperate than in Gaza, where UNRWA provided the only safety net available.  Norway remained deeply concerned about the violence, humiliation and poverty that were pushing the Palestinian population into a deep crisis, particularly as 60 per cent of those living in the Palestinian Territory were below the age of 18.

At this time last year, the Gaza disengagement was raising expectations of an improvement in the quality of life and freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, he said.  The donor community once again looked to UNRWA to take a leading role in a process that today involved addressing the most immediate needs of the refugee population, including food distribution for sheer survival.  The growing needs facing UNRWA were reflected in the revised Emergency Appeal for 2006 and Norway sought to keep international attention on the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories.  Norway was pleased to have co-hosted the Geneva meeting in July and the Stockholm conference in September that had brought together the donor community for that purpose.

ALAN BOWMAN ( Canada) said his country had joined the Advisory Commission that supported UNRWA’s management team.  The Advisory Commission and other management changes underway were important steps in ensuring the Agency’s effectiveness and improving partnerships and accountability.   UNRWA’s organizational development exercise would lead to more effective management and programming, which was a key element in maintaining donor support and meeting the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees.  UNRWA’s role in direct, everyday relief and the provision of essential education, health and social services remained vitally important, all the more so when the human security situation deteriorated.

He said that, in addition to its contribution of $10 million to UNRWA’s core budget in the current year, his country had contributed a further $8.5 million in response to emergency appeals.  “We must work with ever more commitment and intensity to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict in the Middle East.”  Canada stressed the need to realize the goal of the two-State vision:  Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.  Only in that political context could a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian refugee question be found.

LIU JIA ( China) said UNRWA for many years had promoted economic development and provided humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.  As the biggest humanitarian agency in the Middle East, UNRWA had become a symbol of the international commitment to Palestinian refugees.  China appreciated the Agency’s staff, which, despite the fact was working in difficult situations, had made strong efforts to provide relief for Palestinians. 

She said that the Agency was in a difficult financial situation due to the lack of contributions.  That situation had affected the quality of UNRWA’s services and China hoped the international community would increase support.  Over the last year, the peace process had become deadlocked and the lack of a solution to the Palestinian question had prevented peace in the Middle East.  China called on Palestinian and Israeli leaders to gradually establish mutual confidence and re-launch the peace process at an early date.  The international community must create a sound climate for that purpose.  An early, comprehensive and just solution was the common aspiration of people in many parts of the world and China was ready to continue work with the international community to achieve that objective.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.