Success of UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees Also Sign of Collective Failure to Resolve Political Question That Led to Refugee Crisis, Fourth Committee Hears

3 November 2009
GA/SPD/442

Success of UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees Also Sign of Collective Failure to Resolve Political Question That Led to Refugee Crisis, Fourth Committee Hears

3 November 2009
General Assembly
GA/SPD/442
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

22nd Meeting (PM)

Success of UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees Also Sign of Collective Failure

to Resolve Political Question That Led to Refugee Crisis, Fourth Committee Hears

Agency’s Enduring Commitment Has Improved Lives, But Exceeded Humanitarian

Mission through Involvement in Controversial Political Activities, Says Israel

The “success” of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the last 60 years could also be interpreted as a measure of the collective failure to resolve the political question that had led to the refugee crisis in the first place, Indonesia’s representative told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) as it continued its general debate on the work of that Agency this afternoon.

The irony remained that UNRWA’s continued existence as an institution was the clearest and most direct evidence that, in the past 60 years, the international community, and particularly the Security Council, should have done more to bring the Palestinian issue to an end, he said.  The fact that UNRWA, an agency instituted to provide short-term refugee support, had become a long-term Palestinian mainstay, was the clearest possible measure of how much progress had not been made in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He went on to say that Israeli determination to continue such “obnoxious” policies as illegal settlements, construction of the separation wall and the restriction of the rights of the Palestinian people, was the greatest obstacle to the establishment of a physically viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian State, and thus, to the achievement of peace.  The international community must raise its voice and rise in cooperation to ensure that Israel stopped those inhumane policies, which jeopardized negotiations and the prospects for peace.

Along those lines, Lebanon’s representative said that, while UNRWA’s funding shortfall was rightfully a primary concern, the international community must remain focused on eliminating the need for the Agency altogether.  The issue of Palestinian refugees was a political one and not just a humanitarian concern, he added, and it must be solved through the right of the refugees to return, in accordance with the principles of international law, as a prerequisite for a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East.

However, delegations stressed that, until such a peace could be achieved, UNRWA’s mandate was still necessary.  Senegal’s representative said that the Palestinians’ suffering, sacrifice and perseverance in the face of adversity had no parallel in contemporary history.  He highlighted the brave odyssey of the Palestinians, who continued to endure a degradation that was unjustifiable and morally unacceptable. It was urgent to address UNRWA’s lack of resources, and he called on all donors to ensure regular and sufficient financing for its programmes and to demonstrate solidarity in response to the refugees’ needs. 

Israel’s representative said that UNRWA displayed an enduring commitment to the Palestinian refugees and contributed much to improving the lives of needy people, many of whom had been tragically kept in a position of need by political forces largely beyond their own control.  But there had been unfortunate instances, including recently, in which UNRWA officials had exceeded the Agency’s humanitarian mission by becoming involved in activities of a controversial political nature.

He said that such forays into political terrain could not be considered to be part of a legitimate advocacy role, as they undermined the Agency’s neutrality and harmed its humanitarian mission.  He stressed that UNRWA would do well to focus its energies on its humanitarian role, leaving the realm of politics to others.  And while UNRWA’s Commissioner-General’s description of the Agency’s excellent cooperation with the Israeli authorities reflected the “real situation on the ground”, that was in contrast to the impression conveyed by some delegates in their “politicized” statements.

In the Gaza Strip, he said, Hamas maintained its control, while adhering to its policies of openly calling for Israel’s destruction, brazen engagement in weapons smuggling and terrorism, and flouting of the Quartet principles.  Hamas continued to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and to place those weapons in the midst of the civilian population and near United Nations facilities, thus deliberately endangering them.  Yet these facts were “conspicuously absent” in many of the vitriolic statements the Committee had heard.

Moreover, many of those countries were not engaged in supporting UNRWA in ways that could improve the conditions of the Palestinian refugees, and it was telling that only one of UNRWA’s major State donors in 2008 had come from the Arab League, he said.  While the importance of UNRWA’s work could not be denied, the resolutions before the Committee were marked by one-sidedness and politicization.

The United States, as the largest financial supporter of UNRWA’s activities, remained steadfast in its commitment to a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and looked forward to the day when the States of Israel and Palestine would live side by side in peace and security, that country’s speaker said.  As work continued to achieve that goal, UNRWA’s role remained important in encouraging stability and moderation in the region, and in promoting the human development of Palestinian refugees, who would ultimately help forge a successful Palestinian State.  Therefore, it was critical that, in order to fulfil its mandate, UNRWA’s focus must remain on the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality in a highly charged working environment.

Also participating in the debate were the representatives of Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Japan, Sudan, China, Morocco, Malaysia, India and Australia.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See also spoke.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the observer of Palestine.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene on Monday, 9 November, to continue its work.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to continue its general debate on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in yesterday’s Press Release GA/SPD/441.)

The Committee also had before it today a letter dated 1 October 2009 from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General.  It states that Israel had been “barred” from speaking at the high-level event on 24 September to mark UNWRA’s anniversary, owing to the opposition of two Member States of the event’s steering committee and an Observer Mission (document A/C.4/64/7).  Annexed to the letter is a transcript of the intervention that the delegation would have made if it had been allowed to attend.

Statements

NAYEF HABIS AL OTAIBI ( Kuwait) stressed the importance of the case of the Palestinian refugees, whose number now stood at 4.7 million, and the responsibility of the international community to provide UNRWA with what it needed to deliver all necessary services. The Agency should be retained until the case of the Palestinian refugees was settled on the basis of General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), which guaranteed them the right to voluntarily return. While recognizing UNRWA’s significant financial difficulties, he hoped for its expansion and continuation of the delivery of services. He also emphasized the importance of the Agency performing its missions in all five areas of operations, including the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, without any distinction. He commended the measures and reform programmes undertaken by UNRWA to develop education, social and health services for the refugees.

He said that Kuwait had always provided assistance to Palestinian refugees and had contributed to financing many of the infrastructure projects through international organizations. In particular, his country had been the first to respond to the appeal launched by UNRWA in December 2008, donating $34 million to cover the needs of relief aid. Kuwait had also donated $300 million during the Paris Donors’ Conference, as well as $14 million to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp in Lebanon. Kuwait affirmed its continued support to UNRWA through it annual $1.5 million contribution to its budget.

The obstacles imposed by the Israeli authorities on UNRWA’s humanitarian effort were of serious concern, he said. Those included the destruction of the facilities and schools run by the Agency during the attacks on the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009. He expressed appreciation for the dedication of UNRWA’s staff under those difficult circumstances and demanded that they enjoy the same privileges as other United Nations employees in the region. 

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) said recent developments indicated the need to work ever harder to reactivate the Middle East peace process, as embodied in relevant Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Road Map obligations, keeping the issue of Palestinian refugees as one of the core issues.  Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, Gaza Strip and elsewhere had witnessed a continued deterioration of living conditions, especially in Gaza.  Despite pledges at Sharm el-Sheikh last March, precious little aid and material had entered Gaza.  Reconstruction and improved socio-economic conditions could only happen by ending blockades, opening crossings and lifting restrictions on the movement of people and goods.  The present situation was unacceptable, and Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) must be fully implemented, without delay. 

He said that UNRWA’s Commissioner-General had described the tragic conditions on the ground.  As chair of the working group on financing for UNRWA, Turkey had observed a persistent funding gap and its affect on the agency.  Turkey called on the international community to increase its efforts and contributions to provide better means for Palestinian refugees, which would be important, not only in terms of humanity, but also in terms of regional security and stability.  For its part, Turkey had increased its annual voluntary contribution to the Agency, and it had also responded to emergency appeals triggered by sudden developments.

CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, recalled that UNRWA had been created as a temporary United Nations body and given the task of serving Palestine refugees until such time as their situation was justly resolved. Now, 60 years later, the Agency’s very existence was a reminder that the question of Palestine refugees remained unresolved.  That “tragic reality” brought to mind the difficulties currently endured by the refugees. Working with its worldwide donors and collaborators, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, also founded as a temporary agency in 1949, currently provided education, health services, relief, social services and employment programmes to the Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West bank and Gaza, along with UNRWA.

He said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained key to resolving so many of the situations that brought chaos to the region of the Middle East and which had serious worldwide implications. Regrettably, there was a failure on the part of both concerned parties to engage in significant and substantive dialogue and resolution, in order to bring stability and peace to the Holy land. More than ever before, the international community needed to continue its efforts to facilitate with haste a rapprochement of the parties. Obviously, those brokering the negotiations would have to maintain a balanced approach, avoiding the imposition of preconditions on either side.

In the hope that the many problems of the region would finally be resolved by negotiation and dialogue, the Holy See further underlined that a lasting solution must include determination of the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem. In light of the numerous incidents of violence and challenges to free movement imposed by the security wall, the Holy See renewed its support for internationally-guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the Holy places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities.

MAGED ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that despite many challenges and pressures, UNRWA continued its essential role in serving more than 4.6 million Palestinian refugees and ameliorating their plight through the provision of education, health, relief and social services, in addition to its work in the areas of camp infrastructure, micro-finance and emergency assistance.  That role was pending the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestine refugees, including their right to return and fair compensation, according to General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948.

He said that the Non-Aligned Movement supported the Agency’s continuing efforts to fulfil its mandate and to provide basic and social services to the Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the host countries.  The Movement believed that a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and the achievement of lasting peace in the Middle East depended on a resolution of the problem of Palestinian refugees, as one of the core issues of the final status negotiations on the Palestinian track.  In order to achieve that goal, the Movement was concerned about Israel’s continuing denial of the rights of the Palestine refugees and its responsibility for their suffering for more than 60 years.  It was also concerned about Israel’s illegal occupation and systematic violations to international humanitarian and human rights law, and United Nations resolutions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Israel’s illegal practices included the targeting UNRWA’s personnel and obstruction of their General Assembly-mandated activities.

The Movement, he said, was also gravely concerned about the extremely difficult living conditions confronting the Palestine refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, as a result of the continuing punitive measures and blockade imposed by Israel and its military aggression, which caused death and injury to thousands of Palestinians, and widespread damage and destruction to Palestinian civilian infrastructure and United Nations facilities.  Accordingly, the Movement stressed the urgent need for reconstruction to begin immediately in the Gaza Strip, including through the implementation of the Secretary-General’s proposal for the commencement of United Nations-led civilian reconstruction activities and the completion of numerous suspended projects managed by UNRWA.

He reiterated the Movement’s call on Israel to end its collective punitive measures imposed on the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including by the sustained and permanent opening of Gaza’s border crossings in full compliance with the terms and provisions of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).  The Movement also called upon Israel to cease its obstruction of the necessary construction materials and supplies for the reconstruction and repair of damaged and destroyed Agency facilities, and for the implementation of suspended civilian infrastructure projects in refugee camps in Gaza.  In addition, the policies and contributions of UNRWA’s donor countries and changes taking place within the refugee population itself affected UNRWA’s ability to realize its objectives.  Serious consideration should be given to increase contributions to the Agency to ease the ongoing financial shortfalls exacerbated by the situation on the ground.

CLAUDE HELLER (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that while UNRWA’s enormous contribution to the education and development of the 4.6 million Palestine refugees was an achievement worth commemorating, the Agency’s prolonged existence -- surpassing 20 times its initial three-year mandate -- reminded the international community “bitterly” that the occupation of the Palestine Territory and the question of Palestine refugees remained unsolved. The comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict, where an independent Palestinian State would live side-by-side with Israel within secure and recognized borders, was 60 years overdue.  For decades, UNRWA had provided the most basic necessities to refugees and had been able to extend its work to such areas as education, health, relief and social services, micro-finance and emergency assistance, among others, sometimes reaching the highest standards of the region, despite its difficult working conditions.

He said that UNRWA’s work with children, providing free elementary and preparatory education, had been especially critical, as it had helped shape the current Palestinian society and prepared generations of Palestinians to establish their own State and institution. The enduring hardships of the refugees underscored the Agency’s critical role, which, in the winter of 2008-2009, had experienced tremendous challenges during the Israeli military offensive in Gaza; much-needed humanitarian assistance and reconstruction supplies had been unable to get through to assist the Palestinian people living in the Gaza strip.

The Group urged Israel to permit access to all goods necessary for UNRWA to carry out its humanitarian and development activities in Gaza, including construction materials, and to remove restrictions of movement, he said. The Group was also gravely concerned about the attacks on the UNRWA premises that had occurred during the offensive, ad he called for the establishment of mechanisms that would help resolve that grave situation and provide the appropriate reparations.  The Group further called for support for the rebuilding of Gaza and relief assistance to those directly affected by the conflict.  It urged Member States to support UNWRA’s appeals for the humanitarian assistance and reconstruction of Gaza. It also called for full support for the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared camp following its destruction in 2007.

Noting with concern the current budgetary difficulties facing the Agency, he called on the international donor community to mobilize the necessary resources, particularly within the Agency’s general fund, to secure proper service delivery. At the same time, the Rio Group recognized the efforts being made to broaden the donor base.  The Group further supported UNRWA’s reform, with the aim of improving its effectiveness and for the development of the medium-term strategy. Those reforms reflected a serious effort to revitalize the Agency and its effectiveness, while preserving the confidence of donors and refugees alike.

URI RESNICK (Israel), thanking UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd for her informative briefing and years of dedicated service, reiterated Israel’s support for UNRWA’s important humanitarian mission.  The subject of UNRWA was without a doubt an important one, which deserved considered attention.  During its 60 years of operation, UNRWA had displayed an enduring commitment to the extension of vital humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.  In so doing, UNRWA had contributed much to improving the lives of many needy people, many of whom had been tragically kept in a position of need by political forces largely beyond their own control.

On behalf of his delegation, he underscored Israel’s continued commitment to the understandings expressed in the 1967 Comay-Michelmore Exchange of Letters between Israel and UNRWA.  Israel would continue to do its utmost to facilitate UNRWA’s operations, subjected to the upholding of its own security.  Israel was especially devoted to maintaining the close coordination that existed between the Agency and Israeli officials in the field.  His delegation appreciated Ms. AbuZayd’s comments as to the excellent degree of cooperation that UNRWA enjoyed with the Israeli authorities.  Those comments reflected the real situation on the ground, in contrast to the impression conveyed by some of the statements heard in this forum.  Many of those who had made those politicized statements were not engaged in supporting UNRWA in ways that could improve the conditions of the Palestinian refugees on the ground.  It was telling in that regard that only one of UNRWA’s major State donors in 2008 had come from the Arab League.

Notwithstanding those cooperative relations, there had been unfortunate instances, including recently, in which UNRWA officials had exceeded the Agency’s humanitarian mission, by becoming involved in activities of a controversial political nature, he said.  Such forays into political terrain could not be considered to be part of a legitimate advocacy role.  They undermined the Agency’s neutrality and harmed its humanitarian mission.  As Israel had reiterated time and again, UNRWA would do well to focus its energies on its humanitarian role, leaving the realm of politics to others.

Moreover, regrettably, Israel had recently been barred, at the behest of certain States, from participating in UNRWA’s 60-year commemorative event, he said.  It went without saying that foreclosing a Member State’s ability to express its voice on matters of keen interest to itself was not a manner of conduct that befitted the spirit of openness valued by all.

He said that Israel recognized the importance of developing and strengthening the Palestinian economy and Palestinian capacity-building.  It had undertaken many steps to promote and substantially improve the West Bank economy, and had proceeded with such steps, despite the security risks that continued to be posed by Palestinian terrorist activity.  Those steps, complemented by other factors -– such as increased foreign investment and the continued financial support of the international community -– had led to significant improvements on the ground.  According to estimates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the West Bank was forecasted to obtain unprecedented growth of 7 per cent in the coming period.  There had also been encouraging signs of heightened consumer and social activity in the West Bank, such as the opening of a shopping mall and cinema complex in Nablus, the envisioned establishment of the new city of Rawabi, among other developments.

Turning to the Gaza Strip, he said that Hamas maintained its control, while adhering to its policies of openly calling for Israel’s destruction, brazen engagement in weapons smuggling and terrorism, and flouting of the Quartet principles.  Between 2001 and January 2009, some 8,600 rockets had been launched from Gaza against Israeli towns, the majority of which had been launched since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal.  Hamas continued to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and continued to place its weapons in the midst of the civilian population and near United Nations facilities, thus deliberately endangering them.

Those simple facts did not appear in the resolution drafts on the current agenda item, and were conspicuously absent in many of the vitriolic statements the Committee had heard, he said.  There was not a single word on Hamas, not a single word about the rocket firing on Israeli civilians, no mentioning of the arms smuggling to Gaza or the military build-up of Hamas in the midst of a civilian population and in proximity to United Nations facilities.  Thus, while the importance of UNRWA’s work could not be denied, the resolutions before the Committee were clearly marked by one-sidedness and politicization.

Looking ahead, he said it was the shared goal of Israel, as of all interested parties, to resolve the refugee problem, alongside the other aspects of the conflict.  As a permanent status issue, the problem, in all of its complexity, ultimately would be deliberated upon in the context of the political process.  In that regard, he was perplexed at hearing the Palestinian delegate’s appeal yesterday for a redoubling of efforts to promote the resumption of the peace process.  That was a “strange appeal”, given the Palestinian Authority’s unyielding refusal to resume talks with Israel, despite Israel’s repeated calls for them to do so.

In any event, he said, he wished to use this forum to reiterate in “clear, unequivocal language” what his Government had been saying for months, sadly to no avail: “We call upon the Palestinian Authority to resume the bilateral peace talks without delay.  This is not a time for excuses and invective.  It is a time to talk peace.”

Furthermore, he said, there were many tangible steps that could be carried out in parallel with the political track.  The daily fabric of life for both Palestinians and Israelis had been sidelined for too long by political deadlock and ossified political stances.  The time was ripe for creative thinking to explore ways of advancing the peace process, both at the political level and on the ground.  In that regard, Israel lauded UNRWA’s proclaimed goal, expressed in its medium-term strategy for 2010-2015, of ensuring that its beneficiaries enjoyed the best possible standards of human development.  Israel shared the view that achieving full individual potential and full involvement as active and productive participants in socio-economic and cultural life, beyond being worthy goals in their own right, were factors critical to creating the conditions for achieving a political solution and lasting peace.

In closing, he said that “it is this vision of peace which must guide us in our practical search for ways to advance the political process”.  Bold visions, if they were to be realized, required bold and imaginative policies.  He expressed hope that the shared vision of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis would ensure that they entered a new phase of tolerance, mutual understanding, common dignity and peace.

PAUL BADJI ( Senegal) said that Palestinian refugees continually sought to return to their homeland and the land of their forefathers, continuing their long “human and individual collective adventures”.  Their suffering, sacrifice and perseverance in the face of adversity had no parallel in contemporary history.  He highlighted the brave odyssey of the Palestinians, who continued to endure a degradation that was unjustifiable and morally unacceptable.  Expelled and forgotten for more than six decades, they were still refugees, and that status was passed on from generation to generation. For that reason, the United Nations General Assembly had maintained UNRWA’s still-necessary mandate.

He said that UNRWA executed its programs and provided a range of essential services on a direct basis to approximately 5 million refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  Those important actions concerned education, health assistance, micro-financing, and the development of infrastructure, and contributed to “lightening” the load of the Palestinian refugees’ unspeakable suffering caused by Israeli activities. He called for UNRWA to be given the best conditions possible to provide its services without any obstacle, until a fair and sustainable solution was found to the thorny, painful situation of the Palestinian refugees, in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions.

It was high time to bridge the gap separating discourse from reality and exert even greater efforts and vigilance to find a fair solution to the tragic problem of Palestinian refugees, he said.  The need was pressing indeed.  To quote [nineteenth century British Prime Minister] William Gladstone, “justice delayed is justice denied”.  The United Nations regular budget continued to only cover a minute part of UNRWA’s needs.  It was urgent to address that lack of financial resources, and he called on all donors to ensure regular and sufficient financing for all UNRWA’s programmes and to demonstrate the solidarity needed to respond to the needs of the refugees. 

HASAN KLEIB (Indonesia) said that UNRWA had been a positive influence in alleviating the great suffering of millions of Palestinians, providing not only emergency assistance, but also health care, education and employment.  Its intervention in the lives of many Palestinian families had made the lives of countless people more manageable and meaningful.  Its investment in the education of Palestinian children was one of the greatest legacies of its work.  Through education, the Palestinians could have the opportunity to break the cycle of destitution.  That alone, unfortunately, was insufficient.

He said his delegation’s emotions were mixed when it came to UNRWA’s work.  The success of the Agency in the last 60 years operating in the field could also be interpreted as a measure of the collective failure to resolve the political question that led to the refugee crisis in the first place.  The irony remained, therefore, that UNRWA’s continued existence as an institution was the clearest and most direct evidence that, in the past 60 years, the international community, and particularly the Security Council, should have done more to bring the Palestinian issue to an end.  The Council should carry out its mandate with the fullest determination and with the fullest authority to bring the conflict to an end.  Yet, sadly, that was not the case.  The fact that UNRWA, an agency instituted to provide short-term refugee support, had become a long-term Palestinian mainstay, was the clearest possible measure of how much progress had not been made in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli determination to continue such “obnoxious” policies as illegal settlements, construction of the separation wall, and the restriction of the rights of the Palestinian people, were the greatest obstacle to the establishment of a physically viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian State, and thus, to the achievement of peace.  The international community must raise its voice, and rise in cooperation, to ensure that Israel stopped those inhumane policies.  In the view of his delegation -– and hopefully, in the eyes of the rest of the world -– those policies jeopardized negotiations and, therefore, the prospects of peace.

MAJDI RAMADAN ( Lebanon) said that a refugee was someone who had been uprooted from their homeland out of fear of prosecution because of race, religion or nationality, among other things.  That was the story of the Palestine refugees over the years since the Nakba (disaster) of 1948.  UNRWA’s funding shortfall was rightfully a primary concern, but the international community must remain focused on the right of the refugees to return, in accordance with the principles of international law, as a prerequisite for a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East.  The issue of Palestinian refugees was a political one and not just a humanitarian concern.   Israel was fully responsible for all the suffering of the Palestine refugees and should fully respect their right of return.  On the other hand, the international community was politically responsible to resolve the issue of the refugees by holding Israel accountable to its obligations under international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law.

He said that throughout the darkest hours of the Israeli war on Gaza, launched in December 2008, UNRWA had led the international community’s coordinated response.  After the war, UNRWA had moved rapidly to restore its regular service and even transitioned into post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation provider. However, Israel had deliberately targeted United Nations premises in Gaza, including those of UNRWA, and its supply lines.  Based on the principle of State responsibility, Lebanon believed that Israel should bear the financial responsibility for the damages incurred by UNRWA as a result of Israel’s deliberate attacks on those premises.   Lebanon also condemned, in the stringiest terms, the continued Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip, which had started in mid-2007 and intensified during and after the latest Israeli war.   Lebanon further condemned Israel’s continuous disruption of the humanitarian access to the West Bank.  As a host country to about 400,000 Palestinians and as a member of the Working Group on Financing of UNRWA, Lebanon welcomed UNRWA’s commitment to organizational development through the reform and strengthening of its management structures and processes.

SHOJI RYUNO ( Japan) said that his country had attached particular importance to assisting Palestinian refugees in the area of human resources development, through education and vocational training.  It had done so based on the strong belief that participation of Palestinian youth in the creation of a society that gave them hope for the future would contribute to the establishment of a viable Palestinian State and to ensuring stability of “human security”.  Human security, one of the key pillars of Japan’s diplomacy, required protection and empowerment of people to secure dignified lives.

He said that Japan had pledged $200 million at the International Conference in support of the Palestinian economy for the reconstruction of Gaza, held in March.  Since then, it had already implemented several projects worth approximately $50 million.  Japan had also actively provided a wide range of assistance towards building a more viable and sustainable Palestinian economy.  To commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary, the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo would hold a workshop on 19 November.  He hoped that UNRWA’s activities would attract more attention of Japanese people through that event.  Japan regarded the problem of the Palestine refugees as a core issue of the Middle East peace process.  It, therefore, had been addressing the issue proactively in the context of its support for the peace process and as part of its general policy of supporting humanitarian assistance for refugees.

Even though Japan strove to assist Palestinian refugees in various dimensions, the ultimate goal for the entire international community was to eliminate the need for such assistance, he said.  Achieving that goal required the realization of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and a resolution of the refugee issues, based on a two-State solution.  Japan would continue to make efforts towards that goal.

KHALID MOHAMMED OSMAN SIDAHMED MOHAMMED ALI (Sudan), supporting the statement made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA’s contribution to the development of Palestinian refugees was a model for humanitarian institutions since it provided education, emergency relief, social initiatives, micro-finance, and infrastructure support. The suffering of the Palestinian peoples was caused by the continued occupation of their Territory.  Their plight would only end with the full withdrawal of Israel from the Occupied Territory and the restoration of a Palestinian States, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In the disruptive war waged by Israel earlier this year, many had been killed and displaced, and infrastructure had been destroyed. UNRWA’s schools “did not even escape” and their staffs had been subjected to arrest and detention.

He said that the Agency suffered from financial difficulties.  Yet, despite that, it had succeeded in many areas and even increased efficiency in delivering programmes, resulting in a complete transformation in the way it did its work.  He commended the great services provided by sister countries hosting refugees, namely, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and paid tribute to the countries which contributed support to the Palestinian refugees.  He called on the international community and donor countries to provide more and to implement their pledges.  He further called on the General Assembly to provide additional resources to enable the Agency to continue its reform.

HUANG HONGJIANG ( China) praised Ms. AbuZayd for her outstanding leadership over the years.  This year marked UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary, and all that time, the Agency had worked under difficult and dangerous conditions.  It had made important contributions to refugees and the Middle East peace process.  China was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation, especially in the Gaza Strip, and called on Israel to open checkpoints there.  Furthermore, the international community should increase assistance to Palestine in the area of economic and social development, and it should also honour commitments for assistance.

He said that China condemned the attack carried out by Israel at the beginning of the year against UNRWA facilities.   China would continue to provide help to UNRWA within the limits of its capabilities.  It had made donations to UNRWA since 1981, and would be making another $80,000 donation to the Agency. Although limited in its amount, the contribution demonstrated China’s concern for the Palestinian people.  China supported the Palestinians and Israel in working towards a two-State solution based on relevant United Nations resolutions and the principle of land-for-peace, and on that basis, it supported working towards a lasting and equitable solution to the Palestinian question.

OUSSAMA EL MOUJAHID ( Morocco), aligning his delegation with the statement made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed gratitude to UNRWA for spending more than six decades trying to allow the Palestinian nation to fulfil its human potential.  There was no doubt that the role played by the Agency was essential, given that more than 4.5 million refugees suffered on a daily basis from a policy practiced by the occupying authority in clear violation of international law.  That was why additional efforts were needed to bolster the work of the Agency.

He said he was grateful for all that the Agency had done, but it was necessary to provide it with the essential funding to enable it to successfully carry out its function.  He supported the Agency’s strategy to focus on human development and to help Palestinian refugees enjoy all the rights to which they were entitled.  The Agency should continue to play a role in fulfilling its mandate to assist the Palestinian refugees in meeting their needs, but that would only be possible if the best possible conditions were ensured on the ground and funding was made available. Israel continued to impose restrictions on the movement of the Agency staff and continued to build the separation barrier in the Occupied Territory.  For its part, Morocco had partaken in efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip, following the offensive, by providing $15 million, and had given assistance, in the form of medicine, food and other humanitarian supplies.

LAURA ROSS ( United States) said that the United States remained concerned about the situation facing Palestinian refugees.  UNRWA served a critical role throughout the region by providing more than 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza with humanitarian assistance in the areas of education, health, relief and social services.  With the support of donors and host Governments, UNRWA’s humanitarian programmes had improved the lives of generations. The United States was UNRWA’s largest donor, with more than $267 million contributed in fiscal year 2009.  United States Government support to UNRWA in 2009 included $116 million to the Agency’s core services, $119.5 million to support emergency activities in West Bank and Gaza, and $30 million towards emergency relief and reconstruction efforts to assist the 30,000 people displaced after heavy fighting destroyed Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.

She said that the United States financial support to UNRWA was but one manifestation of its commitment to helping the Palestinian people.  The United States also provided direct assistance to Palestinians outside the framework of its support to UNRWA.  In fiscal year 2009, the United States, through its Agency for International Development, provided $426 million in assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for basic humanitarian needs, private sector development, health and education programmes, and democracy and civil society promotion.  The United States Government also provided $350 million in direct budget assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

The United States remained steadfast in its commitment to a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and looked forward to the day when the States of Israel and Palestine would live side-by-side in peace and security, she said.  As work continued to achieve that goal, UNRWA’s role remained important in encouraging stability and moderation in the region, and in promoting the human development of Palestinian refugees, who would ultimately help forge a successful Palestinian State.  UNRWA’s focus on the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality in a highly-charged working environment was critical for the Agency to fulfil its mandate.

The United States remained concerned that chronic financial shortfalls undermined UNRWA’s ability to provide needed humanitarian assistance, she said.  UNRWA would be unable to provide basic humanitarian services without a significant infusion of donor support. Children often sat three to a desk in classes that met for half the normal class time to accommodate a second shift of school.  Patients often received basic health care in dilapidated structures, where doctors saw more than 100 patients per day due to inadequate financial support.  In light of those critical needs, she asked donor States to redouble efforts to secure the funding UNRWA needed to maintain a consistently high level of humanitarian assistance.

DZULAZHAR MUSA ( Malaysia) said that the root cause of the suffering of the Palestinian refugees was the unlawful occupation of the Palestinian Territory by Israel. Throughout this time, Israel had frequently violated international law, including humanitarian and human rights law. It had no qualms about using indiscriminate violence and had initiated collective punishment against civilians. What was more, Israel did that with impunity.

He said that the findings of the Board of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict, set up by the Human Rights Council, was further evidence of the brutality of Israeli practices.  Most notably, those findings included the breach of the inviolability of United Nations premises and personnel.  The Israeli Government must be held accountable, and he urged it to commit itself to reparation for the damages done to the United Nations facilities in Gaza.

Israel’s military action against Gaza in December and January 2008-2009 had further exacerbated the situation, he said. With a large population of refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land with no natural resources, the prospects for the people of Gaza were never bright to begin with.  At the same time, the blockade imposed by Israel at the borders had restricted the movement of persons, essential goods, and construction materials.  It was sad to note that almost a year since those hostilities had commenced, the situation in Gaza remained unchanged.  In light of that difficult situation, Malaysia had made additional contributions this year through UNRWA’s Gaza Ramadan Appeal, with the hope that those contributions would alleviate the plight and sufferings of the people of Gaza.

KHAGEN DAS ( India) said that UNRWA’s work in providing humanitarian assistance, including education, health care and social services, was highly commendable.  India had consistently supported those efforts, and he reiterated appreciation for the difficult but essential service that UNRWA had rendered over the years, making assistance of the Palestinian refugees its highest priority.

He said that the Agency’s budgetary shortfall continued to grow, and the Agency was finding it difficult to maintain the existing level of services.  That paucity of funds was paralleled by an increase in the demands on the Agency for assistance and support, particularly in Gaza.  India was concerned that the global financial crisis had adversely impacted UNRWA’s operations.  Those funding challenges exacerbated existing pressures of caring for refugees in overcrowded camps.  Those challenges could not be addressed by a reduced capacity to help.  There was an urgent need for greater international efforts to ease UNRWA’s fiscal burden.  Against that backdrop, India had made a special contribution of $1 million in January in response to the flash appeal made by UNRWA for extending assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  In closing, he said that the only enduring solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees was a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the long-standing conflict in the Middle East.

DAVID WINDSOR ( Australia) said that in response to the humanitarian and developmental need of UNRWA since late 2007, Australia had donated more than $75 million in assistance to the Palestinian Territory, including approximately $41 million in 2009. Of that assistance, more than $32 million had been provided through UNRWA. It was incumbent upon Israel to do all it could to help increase the flow of humanitarian goods and necessary supplies into Gaza. During the tragic events at the beginning of the year, Australia had called on Israel to ensure the safety of United Nations and other humanitarian workers, and it had condemned all Hamas actions that deliberately endangered civilian lives.

He stressed that improvement in the day-to-day lives and prospects of Palestinian refugees across the region would be greatly enhanced by a just and enduring peace, predicated on a two-State solution. UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary was a reminder that the work of that body was “60 years undone”. As the international community worked together towards that urgent objective, Australia was proud to support UNRWA and the essential work it had been doing for 60 years.

In closing remarks, Ms. ABUZAYD said she was pleased to note, in her last opportunity to address the Committee as Commissioner-General of UNRWA, that attendance had been so good.  She noted that 29 speakers had registered and spoken.  She was also pleased to note that the Rio Group had been able to speak on the issue with one powerful voice for the first time.  It was also evident that there was consensus in the Committee on the issue.

Presenting a summary of the major themes regarding UNRWA, which had been discussed during the Committee’s general debate, Ms. AbuZayd said she had recalled the conflict in Gaza at the start of the year and its aftermath.  There was also the broader issue of the urgent need to resume the peace process and bring negotiations to a swift conclusion.  Moreover, the Palestine refugees should not be “left to the last”, she said. 

There was also concern regarding recent negative developments in East Jerusalem, she said.  Many of those evicted from their homes were refugees.  In addition, there was concern about the serious financial situation facing the Agency this year, and which was projected to continue for next year.  Hopefully, colleagues in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) would recognize the reasonableness and importance of the Agency’s work.  She strongly sympathized with pleas heard in the Committee from the representatives of host countries for the maintenance of services and the avoidance of any cuts.  Her own staff and representatives in the field were also making the same demands.

There was also the importance of upholding international law, including international humanitarian law in the occupied territories, she said.  In addition, an end to impunity could also be ignored.  Furthermore, renewed political support had been heard during the debate, as it had during the ministerial high-level event for UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary. 

She said that the comments made regarding her work had been heart-warming.  She also stressed that States should work hard so that there would not be an event for the seventieth anniversary of UNRWA.  She was deeply touched by the compliments of her work, and thanked everyone for their unstinting support.  She asked that they extend the same solid backing to her successor.

Right of Reply

Exercising the right of reply, the observer of Palestine said that her delegation was compelled to respond to the statement made by Israel.  She was perplexed by Israel’s expressed support for UNRWA, considering Israel’s daily obstruction to UNRWA’s operations throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory,  including East Jerusalem, and its persistent harassment, intimidation and harm caused to UNRWA’s staff; the damage and destruction caused to UNRWA’s schools, clinics and other facilities, and to its store of humanitarian aid; and the taxes levied on the Agency -- all in violation of the Comay-Michelmore agreement, to which Israel claimed to be committed, and in grave violation of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and other provisions in international humanitarian law.

She said that her delegation had addressed the issue in its statement to the Committee this afternoon, including corroboration found in the results of the investigations carried out by the Board of Inquiry, and the United Nations Fact Finding Mission led by Justice (Richard) Goldstone.  As for Israel’s claimed “excellent coordination” with UNRWA, that had “interestingly” led to a suspension of UNRWA operations because of failed coordination.  That excellent coordination had also resulted in Israeli fire on an UNRWA convoy delivering aid in Gaza, and the direct targeting of UNRWA’s schools and facilities, despite being informed that civilians were being sheltered there, and despite being told the exact coordinates of all UNRWA premises.

As for the characterisation that Israel had been “barred” from the high- level event on 24 September, she said that was false; that joined the “long list of” false allegations made by Israel regarding UNRWA. A speaking role was proposed to Israel in a “spirit of compromise”, despite criteria set by the Committee, which Israel flatly rejected, thus enabling Israel to persist with such rhetoric.

Furthermore, there was nothing unclear or confusing about the Palestine Observer delegation’s position regarding the  peace process, she said, which had repeatedly reaffirmed its readiness and willingness for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace that resolved all core issues, including that of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, security, water and prisoners. Such a settlement would bring an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, and bring about the realization by all people of the right to freedom in an independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

She said that her delegation continued to insist that the peace process must be a principled one, with clear parameters and a firm basis: the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land-for-peace, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Road Map.

She insisted that the peace process must not be undertaken in a vacuum, as Israel wished, as Israel would continue to commit all forms of human rights violations against the Palestinian civilian population, inflicting even more suffering and loss, with its insidious, unlawful colonization campaign, as it had done in all the past years, thereby seeking to ensure that the extreme unbalance of power was what determined the outcome.

Closing Remarks

In closing remarks, Committee Chairman NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said that, due to the small number of speakers left regarding UNRWA’s work, the meeting scheduled for tomorrow, 4 November, would be cancelled.  The conclusion of the general debate for the agenda item would take place at the Committee’s next meeting.  Due to the fact that two important reports of the Secretary-General requested by resolutions A/RES/63/97 (Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan) and A/RES/63/98 (Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem) had not yet been issued, the Committee would cancel its meeting scheduled for Friday, 6 November, and hold its next meeting on Monday, 9 November.

In the meantime, he urged the Secretariat to make available the Secretary-General’s reports to delegations. 

He said that following the conclusion of the general debate on UNRWA at its next meeting, the Committee would begin consideration of the agenda item Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

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