|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
21st Meeting (AM)
FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION OF ARAB COUNTRIES TO PALESTINE RELIEF AGENCY MEAGRE,
ISRAEL TELLS GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S SPECIAL POLITICAL COMMITTEE
As Debate on UNRWA Continues, Syria Says Burden Of Help To Refugees
Must Also Be Counted; Palestine Observer Cites 58 Years Of Occupancy; Suffering
Not one Arab country had crossed the threshold of 0.5 per cent of the total pledges to meet the emergency appeals of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the representative of Israel told the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning, as it continued debate on the work of the Agency.
He claimed further, that no Arab country was prepared to spend any more than “a miniscule part of its ever-increasing oil revenues” to alleviate the plight of Palestinian refugees. He said assistance to the Palestinian people had always been central to Israeli policy. His country continued to attach great significance to the Agency’s activities and understood the difficult conditions under which it operated. Although it was Israel’s policy to facilitate UNRWA’s humanitarian operations, that task often proved difficult, since terrorist organizations sought to destroy any semblance of normalcy in the region, and Israel’s restrictions were, unfortunately, necessary to protect Israeli lives.
Exercising his right of reply, the representative of Syria took issue with Israel’s assertion that Syria had supported the “Islamic Jihad movement”. He said Syria’s contributions to UNRWA could not be calculated only by sums given to the Agency, but also by the financial burden it carried to help Palestinian refugees, pending their return home.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine said that, while the Israeli delegate had described at length his Government’s support for UNRWA, the fact should not be obscured that the Palestinians had not chosen a life of dependency on the Agency’s activities. For the past 58 years, they had been denied the right to claim what was rightfully theirs, as recognized by international resolutions, while forced to suffer aggression and infringements on their basic rights.
The United States representative said UNRWA’s role had been especially critical since the 2006 Legislative Council elections. The failure of the Palestinian Authority Government to renounce terror, recognize Israel and respect previous agreements continued to create unnecessary hardships for the Palestinian people.
In concluding remarks, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA took note of the positive developments in the region, including the early recovery of Lebanon and the Government’s landmark decision to allow for an improvement of refugee living conditions. She hoped that renewed engagement by the international community to resolve the conflict in the occupied Palestinian Territory would improve the untenable humanitarian situation there.
The representatives of Libya, Bahrain, Oman and Morocco also spoke, as did the Permanent Observer of the Holy See. The representative of Kuwait also exercised his right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 6 November to take up the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning 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).
RAN GIDOR ( Israel) said that, once again the Committee found itself discussing the myriad of contradictory events that made up the tapestry of Israeli-Palestinian relations: incipient hopes followed by false starts; fresh initiatives followed by tragic miscalculations, and gestures of good will followed by reckless violence. Stressing that assistance to the Palestinian people had always been central to Israeli policy, he said Israel continued to attach great significance to the activities of the UNRWA, and understood the difficult conditions under which the Agency operated.
Although it was Israel’s policy to facilitate UNRWA’s humanitarian operations, that often proved difficult, mainly because of the murderous activities of terrorist organizations that sought to destroy any semblance of normalcy in the region. That was the crux of the matter. The scourge of terrorism required Israel to attend to security issues, which unfortunately, had impinged on smooth UNRWA operations. Recalling Security Council resolutions 1373 (2001), 1566 (2004) and 1624 (2005), obliging States to combat terrorism, he said that UNRWA had recognized Israel’s right of self-defence. Nevertheless, Israel had no choice but to limit, at times, the movement of goods and individuals.
He said terrorist attacks in 2005 near the Karni crossing, the main humanitarian crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, had set off a series of other attacks. Similar incidents had occurred in all terminals and crossings around the Gaza Strip. Some had bee thwarted. Thus, Israel’s restrictions mentioned in the Report were unfortunately necessary to protect Israeli lives. Notwithstanding those measures, there had been an increase in the Palestinian trade flow through various terminals, which comprised part of the modest improvement seen in Palestinian economic indicators.
The UNRWA report pertaining to the period between 1 January and 31 December 2005 referred to circumstances that were different from those today. Two major developments had since occurred: the election of a Hamas terrorist government in January 2006, and the Palestinian terrorist attack on 25 June 2006. Last year, Israel had expressed hope that the UNRWA report would be the last of its kind. Unfortunately, a Hamas-led government persisted in its policy of triple denial: “no” to recognizing Israel’s right to exist, “no” to giving up terrorism, and “no” to acknowledging existing agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Calling the UNRWA report “refreshingly factual, balanced and forward-looking”, he said Israel was pleased that dialogue between UNRWA and the Israeli authorities had been constructive. However, Israel was not beyond criticism and Israeli officials had been available to coordinate issues arising from Agency operations.
On UNRWA’s donors, he said that during the 2000-2006 period, the United States alone had been responsible for more than one third of UNRWA’s total pledges. In contrast, not one Arab country had crossed the threshold of 0.5 per cent of the total pledges to UNRWA’s Emergency Appeals. However, as UNRWA had become the second-biggest employer in the Palestinian Authority area, Israel believed the Agency’s mandate served to perpetuate the problem, rather than resolve the refugee status of Palestinians. He called for the Agency to transfer the daily tasks, within existing budgets, to governmental bodies in the Palestinian Authority, as should be done in Jordan and elsewhere. Israel hoped for adequate living conditions for all neighbouring communities, and looked forward to working with those Palestinians who acknowledged Israel’s right to exist.
CHRISTOPHER ROSS ( United States) said his country continued to help meet the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, through $468 million in assistance, and a total contribution in 2006 of $135 million to UNRWA, making it the second largest contributor to the Agency after the European Commission. He said UNRWA’s humanitarian assistance was a stabilizing force in the region, and he called upon other countries, especially those from the region, to increase their contributions to the Agency’s core budget.
He said that, as the second largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza, and the main provider of education, primary health services and other humanitarian assistance, UNRWA’s role had been especially critical since the 2006 Legislative Council elections. The failure of the Palestinian Authority Government to renounce terror, recognize Israel and respect previous agreements continued to create unnecessary hardships for the Palestinian people.
He said UNRWA had taken significant steps to respond to recommendations of the high-level international conference in Geneva in 2004 that had reviewed the Agency’s operations, and had designed a three-year Organization Development Process. The Advisory Commission now had 21 members and three observers, and had established two subcommittees tasked with providing substantive advice to the Commissioner-General on matters related to programming and budget. UNRWA had also undertaken more strategic planning by developing an overall programme strategy. Calling on the Assembly to expedite the clustering of items -- biennializing and triennializing them where possible -- he said it was currently unnecessary to continue to adopt additional resolutions on UNRWA.
AHMED H.M. GEBREEL ( Libya) said that, what was happening on the ground spoke volumes –- and did so more eloquently than all statements. Everyone was aware of the situation, and who had been the primary party responsible for it, namely the Israeli occupation authorities. He expressed appreciation for UNRWA efforts to carry out its mandate, despite the obstacles, risks and problems posed to it by those Israeli authorities.
He said the UNRWA report reflected the indifference of Israeli occupation authorities to international laws and norms, including simple humanitarian rules, among them, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. That had been seen in the exacerbation of the situations in Gaza and the West Bank. The construction of the wall had prevented children from attending school, people from going to work, and UNRWA from carrying out its work at refugee camps. Attacks against UNRWA had continued. Houses had been destroyed and the standard of living had dipped below poverty level for Palestinians. Israel had further extended its attacks to southern Lebanon.
He recognized the importance of UNRWA, noting that the international community must always be aware of the political origin of the problem. Those causing that problem must be held responsible. UNRWA must continue to be a temporary arrangement, until refugees could return to their homes from which they had been evacuated.
FAISAL EBRAHIM AL-ZAYANI ( Bahrain) said the information provided in the UNRWA report and the Commissioner-General’s introduction, had underlined the impediments that had faced the work of the Agency and had led to setbacks in implementing its mandate. Progress achieved in increasing the quality of services to the Palestinian refugees had also been indicated. The Commissioner-General had done excellent work, in particular, in her oversight of the reform process, including the development programme.
He said the deterioration of the crisis was a result of the continued activities of the Israeli forces against the Palestinian people, including killings, home demolition, closings and curfews, and other restrictions. These had led to an increase in poverty and unemployment among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, separated Palestinians from each other and hampered the relief agency in its activities. The deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian Territory was also caused by the continued construction of the separation wall, contrary to the advice of the International Court of Justice, as well as the Israeli policy of land confiscations and settlement expansions.
He said the problem of Palestinian refugees was part and parcel of the question of Palestine. Assembly resolution 149 (III), stipulating the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property, had never been implemented. The work of the Agency must continue, as it was indispensable until a resolution was found to the problem of the Palestinian refugees and to the Palestinian question, in accordance with United Nations resolutions, and the principle of land for peace.
SAIF AL-MAAMARI ( Oman) said that some 4.3 million refugees continued to suffer from a lack of basic services. While his delegation appreciated the efforts of UNRWA to alleviate that suffering and provide Palestinians with basic necessities, Oman believed it was the responsibility of the occupation authorities to end Palestinian suffering.
He said the Agency’s role was humanitarian, and therefore, not mandated to deal with political problems. However, the humanitarian and political dimensions of the problem had escalated because of political factors. Since it was impossible to ignore the political aspect of the situation, UNRWA should seek to highlight the root causes of refugee suffering that had existed for half a century. The escalation of the problem was due to the policies pursued by Israeli occupation forces against unarmed Palestinians, namely the demolition of houses, separation of families and deportation. Those activities had further entrenched Israeli occupation and had displaced even more Palestinians.
He said the resolution of 1948, stipulating the right of return and compensation for those not wishing to return, was a prerequisite for creating just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The dangerous conflict situations that persisted in the world were due to Israel’s disrespect for international resolutions. While recognizing the right of all Palestinians to return to their homes, he called on the international community to pressure Israel to end its practices, and to not hinder UNRWA’s work, and to provide the Agency with the wherewithal to continue its humanitarian role for the refugees.
SAADIA EL ALAOUI ( Morocco) said the question of UNRWA could not be considered without putting it in the framework of the continued destruction of the economy in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the continuing construction of the separation wall. Those factors also made it difficult for UNRWA to carry out its activities. The Agency’s efforts to provide a minimum level of humanitarian subsistence to the Palestinian refugees were of great importance.
She called upon Israel to end the restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff, to end detentions of staff and to end destruction of Agency facilities. Until a just solution to the question of Palestinian refugees was found, donor countries should maintain, and possibly increase, their support for UNRWA so that the Agency could continue to perform its various activities. She underlined the importance of bringing about a just and lasting peace in the region in accordance with United Nations resolutions, the principle of land for peace, and the provisions set out in the road map.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that each year, a “seemingly endless list” of difficulties and differences separating Israelis and Palestinians was recited. However, to make a litany of symptoms without addressing the root cause was hardly helpful to either party. Each was forced to live under the horrible tensions of potential explosive acts of terror, or military incursion, that resulted in death and the destruction of infrastructures. He said the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the persistent instability in the Middle East could not be ignored; his delegation remained convinced of the two-State solution as the basis for the resolution of the crisis, which would permit Israelis to live in security in their own land and Palestinians to live safely in a viable state of their own.
It was a sad fact, he added, that the international community had failed to engage the Israelis and Palestinians in significant and substantive dialogue. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the key to a series of questions affecting the whole Middle East. A lasting solution must include the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem. In light of the numerous incidents of violence and challenges to free movement posed by the security wall, the Holy See renewed its support for resolution A/RES/ES-10/2, which sought for “internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities”.
Right of Reply
The representative of Syria, speaking in right of reply, said the Israeli representative had attempted once again, to “beautify the ugly face of Israel through lies”. That included the lie that Syria was supplying the Islamic Jihad movement. The image of Israeli occupation could not be beautified, especially given the documented and substantiated realities concerning the Zionist occupation.
Covert and overt terrorist practices had been perpetuated by all Israeli governments over the last five decades, he said. Today, there was news of an Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of 15 Palestinians so far. Israel continued to trample on international law. Problems today had resulted from the denial of Palestinian inalienable rights.
He said United Nations responsibility on the question of Palestine was historic; it had become all the greater after the signing of international covenants, including that on social and economic rights, whose article 12 stated that every person had the right to leave their country and could not be denied re-entry. He said Syria’s contributions to UNRWA could be calculated not only by the sums given, but also by the financial burden Syria carried to help Palestinian refugees, pending their return home.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine said that while the Israeli delegate had described at length his Government’s support for UNRWA, the fact should not be obscured that the Palestinians had not chosen a life of dependency on the Agency’s activities. For the past 58 years, they had been denied the right to claim what was rightfully theirs, as recognized by international resolutions, and while forced to suffer aggression and infringements on their basic rights.
He spoke of the “relentless” claim of Israel that security was the important factor, and said that if using excessive force against the occupied people could be justified with that excuse, the question could be asked, what kind of Palestinian action, in response, the Israelis found appropriate. It was a “red-herring” argument that also violated international law. The Palestinian refugees could claim legitimate security needs, since they were the ones excluded from their homes, were bombarded, and had bitter life conditions forced on them by the occupier.
He said that terror, the word so often used by Israel, was a reality the Palestinians suffered from on a daily basis, “such as the terror of a bulldozer flattening your house, or bullets raining down.” Terror was, indeed, a threat to peace and stability in the region. The Assembly must work tirelessly to end the Palestinians’ terror.
The representative of Kuwait said he had not wanted to exercise his right of reply, but the statement of the Israeli representative made it necessary. The statement had emphasized UNRWA’s problems; it did not mean Israel was concerned about UNRWA financing, but rather, that it wanted to distract from the problems caused by the occupying forces.
Noting that UNRWA had been established in 1949, he said its financing was an international responsibility; the support of Kuwait and other Arab countries was beyond the budget of UNRWA itself. His delegation wished to clarify those facts, because Israel had sought to distort them. UNRWA was mandated to provide services on a temporary basis; however, more than 50 years later, inhumane practices continued. Israel should allow the Agency to do its work, and stand by its international obligations to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians.
Statement by Commissioner-General
KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, Commissioner General of UNRWA, thanked delegations for their strong and unequivocal support for the management and staff of UNRWA and for the refugees themselves. She said that support was critical in light of the current conditions in the occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular in Gaza. UNRWA’s ongoing reform process had resulted in a revitalized and expanded advisory commission, and an Organizational Development Plan to enhance management capacity and strengthen the Agency’s programme and planning. Financial and political support for the Organizational Development Plan would allow UNRWA to further implement results-oriented reforms.
She noted positive developments in the region, including the early recovery of Lebanon and the Government’s landmark decision to allow for an improvement of refugee living conditions. She said she hoped that renewed engagement by the international community to resolve the conflict in the occupied Palestinian Territory would improve the untenable humanitarian situation there. She called on Member States to continue supporting UNRWA, as the Agency remained an essential lifeline for the Palestine refugees.
* *** *