Palestinian Refugees Watch Change Recast Middle East, Frustrated by Own Lack of Progress towards Ending 60-Year Plight, Fourth Committee Told

31 October 2011
GA/SPD/495

Palestinian Refugees Watch Change Recast Middle East, Frustrated by Own Lack of Progress towards Ending 60-Year Plight, Fourth Committee Told

31 October 2011
General Assembly
GA/SPD/495
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

19th Meeting (PM)

Palestinian Refugees Watch Change Recast Middle East, Frustrated by Own Lack

of Progress towards Ending 60-Year Plight, Fourth Committee Told

 

For Third Successive Year, Palestinian Refugee Agency ‘Down to Wire’

In Addressing $50 Million Funding Gap for Vital Services, Agency Head Says

Now facing its third year with a “down to the wire at the last minute” funding gap for essential services, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was still $46 million short for its 2011 budget, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today as it began its annual consideration of that Agency’s work.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, said that despite the urgent nature of the needs addressed by UNRWA — including chronic food insecurity, medical and education needs, and access to drinking water — a significant gap in funding for the Agency’s core services persisted.  Those monies were needed for running schools and hospitals and carrying out social work, among other activities.

While considerable change had come to parts of the Middle East in the past year, the Palestinian refugees had nevertheless watched, frustrated by their own lack of movement in the peace process that should put an end to their 60‑year‑old plight, he said.  While some progress had been made in rebuilding Gaza’s physical infrastructure, economic recovery remained impossible under the blockade imposed by Israel since 2007.

Still, he said, shortfalls in the past two years had literally been bridged at the last minute, and the current funding gap for 2011 represented several weeks of operating costs.  Major donors had already warned that substantial additional funding could not be expected this year, and projected contributions in 2012-2013 had fallen substantially below the level required to achieve the Agency’s human development goals.

While acknowledging that it was a difficult time to ask funders for money, the problem was that the “number and needs” of the refugees were rapidly increasing, and he urged all donors, including non-traditional ones and Arab States, to continue to find ways to increase funding to UNRWA.  That was necessary, not just this year, but in years to come in order to place the Agency’s work on firm and predictable financial footing.

Further speaking to the Agency’s funding gap, the Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, Andreas Løvold, said that a structural financial crisis undermined the quality of services provided by the Agency.  That made it difficult to comply with United Nations General Assembly-mandated initiatives, and resulted in increased hardships for the staff.

The services provided were the minimum required, and the humanitarian problems faced by the Palestine refugees must be addressed as a shared international responsibility, he said.  In view of the difficult humanitarian conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Working Group urged all potential donors to double and redouble their efforts to fully fund the Agency’s emergency appeals for 2011.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See said that the report of the UNRWA pointed to a crucial “fault line” developing in the region.  As the global economic crisis worsened, the financial picture of UNRWA did too.  UNRWA, as well as non-governmental organizations operating on the refugees’ behalf, was approaching a breaking point.  The lack of resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict had become a “thorn in the side” with worldwide implications, and had been exploited by many for geopolitical gains.

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine voiced grave concern regarding Israel’s “deplorable” and ongoing undermining of UNRWA’s work, and its obstruction of refugee access to services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, by a “vast regime of illegal policies and measures”, which also affected all aspects of life for the refugee community.

Quoting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, she said the time had come “to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the Diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights”.  It was the responsibility of the international community to fulfil the Palestinians’ longing for their rights and the stability, peace and justice they had been too long denied, she said.

Egypt’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the group remained deeply concerned about Israel’s persisting denial and violation of Palestinian refugee rights, and deeply regretted that illegal practices extended to include targeting UNRWA’s personnel and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. 

He condemned Israel’s breach of the inviolability of the United Nations premises, and reiterated the Movement’s call for the full lifting of Israel’s blockade, which he said was unjustly imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than four years.  A just and lasting solution of the Palestinian refugee question was absolutely vital for the settlement of the Question of Palestine and of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole, and he expressed the hope that Palestine would soon celebrate statehood.

The representative of Jordan, as the country in the region with the highest number of Palestinian refugees, said he could not accept a diminished level of UNRWA services, as that would compound the despair, frustration and inequity among the refugees and could serve to destabilize the region.  He urged all donors to stand by their financial commitments, and he called for increases in donations and appealed to the international community to work together and step up its efforts.

The Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union, commending the Agency on its work, said the Union was its largest donor, having provided 1.2 billion euros between 2000 and 2010.  He strongly urged new donors to commit financially to UNRWA’s work and existing donors to increase their contributions.

The Agency had been a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood, said Norway’s representative, who agreed with the need to enhance the donor base, but also to embark on structural change.  First and foremost, General Assembly members had a joint responsibility to ensure that UNRWA became more properly funded by the United Nations regular budget. 

During an interactive dialogue following Mr. Grandi’s statement, the representatives of Israel, Venezuela and Lebanon also spoke.

The representatives of Senegal, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and China spoke during the debate segment, as did the Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union. 

Also speaking was the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 1 November, at 3 p.m. to continue its general debate on UNRWA.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it the report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (document A/66/13).  Providing a contextual review of the political, economic and security developments in the five areas of operation, the report states that the relatively stable conditions in Jordan and Syriaallowed the Agency to pursue its core human development activities, while conflict, violence and political uncertainty in theOccupied Palestinian Territory, and to a lesser degree, in Lebanon, increased hardshipfor the refugees.  The refugees also had to contend with the impact of the global economic downturn.

On the subject of field priorities during 2010, the report states that UNRWA’s field management in Jordan pursued reforms of the relief and social service programmes, such as categorizing the most vulnerable beneficiaries based on the type of assistance required and establishing a comprehensive referral system.  In Lebanon, during the reporting period, the field office engaged in high-level discussions with the Lebanese Ministry of Health and succeeded in securing support for wider coverage of health services to the Palestine refugees.  As a consequence, 35 hospitals were now contracted by UNRWA (up from 15 in 2009) to provide care to refugees.

In Syria, the report finds, UNRWA made its vocational training activities a priority area, in order to address youth unemployment and raise the socio-economic status of Palestinian refugees in the country.  In the West Bank, UNRWA’s education programme initiated a comprehensive education recovery plan focusing on such foundational areas as curricula, teaching methods and remedial education.  The Health Department introduced a Family and Child Protection Programme in nine camps.  Education was also the field office’s top priority in the Gaza Strip where the field office improved the academic performance of UNRWA students through its comprehensive Respect and Discipline Initiative.

Noting progress made on the Agency’s four human development goals — a long and healthy life, knowledge and skills, a decent living standard, and human rights enjoyed to the fullest — the report states that despite the difficult conditions prevailing in camp communities, communicable diseases were under control and infant child mortality and maternal rates had declined over the past two decades.  UNRWA operated 683 elementary and preparatory schools, providing free basic education for nearly half a million Palestine refugee children.  Literacy rates among Palestine refugees compared well with regional and global levels.  However, while in Syria and Jordan, students often out-performed their peers in government schools, data showed that education standards had slipped in other locations in recent years.  Poverty levels among refugees in 2010 were high and appeared to be increasing, most visibly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Further, levels of overcrowding in Palestine refugee camps were extremely high.

Thus, the report states that the provision of essential services by UNRWA was integral to the refugees’ enjoyment of rights, including economic and social rights associated with the Agency’s core areas of service delivery, as well as civil and political rights, such as the right to life.

The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/66/222).  The report refers to correspondence between the Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations regarding actions taken by the Government of Israel in implementing the relevant provisions of resolution 65/99.  It also presents the information made available by UNRWA’s Commissioner-General to the Secretary-General on the return of refugees registered with the Agency to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

It also had before it a report of the Secretary-General entitled Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (document A/66/318).  According to that report, the Secretary-General had sent notes verbales to Israel and all other Member States on 9 and 11 May, drawing their attention to the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions 65/98 to 65/101 and requesting information by 8 July concerning any action taken or envisaged in relation to the implementation of those resolutions.  The report notes the replies dated 2 June and 8 July from Denmark and Israel, to the request contained in paragraph 4 of resolution 65/101.  The report also states that no information has been received from other Member States regarding the implementation of that resolution.

The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General entitled Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (document A/66/296).

Also before the Committee was a Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document (A/66/520).  The report describes the activities of the Group during 2011 and provides a detailed outline of UNRWA’s current financial situation.  The Working Group unanimously adopted the report at its meeting on 18 October.

According to the report, the Working Group reiterated its belief that UNRWA played a vital role in providing assistance to the Palestine refugees, as well as in preserving the stability and security of the region.  It also noted with grave concern the exceptionally large funding gap anticipated for the UNRWA General Fund, not only in 2011, but for the next biennium, and reiterated that it was the responsibility of the international community to ensure that UNRWA services were maintained at an acceptable level.  The Group called for the early and complete fulfilment of outstanding donor pledges to UNRWA, and urged those Governments that had not yet contributed to UNRWA to do so on a regular basis.

Statement by Commissioner-General

FILIPPO GRANDI, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that while considerable change had come to parts of the Middle East in the past year, the Palestinian refugees had nevertheless watched, frustrated by their own lack of movement in the peace process that should put an end to their 60‑year‑old plight.  Instead, the political context remained challenging and peace negotiations were regrettably stagnant.

The Agency, he said, over the course of its 60-year history, had proven time and again to be an important contributor in the region.  UNRWA faced many challenges.  While last year Israeli authorities had eased the blockade in the Gaza Strip by approving the import of a greater quantity of goods, including construction materials for UNRWA and other United Nations projects, and by October, Israel’s Government had approved UNRWA construction projects valued at approximately $188 million, however, cumbersome import procedures caused delays in projects for housing, education, health and water and sanitation.  The Agency’s reconstruction plan for Gaza was estimated to cost $661 million, and some $473 million in construction projects still remained to be approved and implemented.

While progress in rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure was a welcome and necessary step for Gaza’s physical reconstruction, economic recovery remained impossible under the blockade, he said.  For the past four years, Gaza’s basic needs had been met either by international aid or through the so-called “tunnel economy”.  In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation continued to impact negatively on the human rights of Palestinians, and while some improvements had been made to their economic situation, the refugee community remained vulnerable.  This year in East Jerusalem, home demolitions and revocations of Palestinian residency rights, together with settlement construction, threatened human security.  In the West Bank, the Bedouin community had suffered an increase in demolitions especially.

Humanitarian needs in the West Bank and Gaza remained urgent in 2011 and seemed certain to remain so in 2012, he said.  He urged donors, many of whom had been generous in the past, to provide sufficient funds to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.  Speaking to specific refugee populations, he said that Palestinians in Lebanon continued to live in some of the worst conditions for refugees in the region.  UNRWA had launched its “Restoring Dignity” appeal in September, which would cover a five-year period, and requested $147 million to address chronic food insecurity, medical and education needs, and a lack of access to drinking water.  In northern Lebanon, rebuilding Nahr el-Bared camp, destroyed during the conflict in 2007, had seen progress.  Refugees in Syria continued to enjoy a wide range of social and economic rights, however, the humanitarian need increased.  Jordan remained a stable environment for refugees, enabling UNRWA to focus on its programming and reform plans, subjected to resource availability.

However, he stressed that the lack of adequate funding for the Agency’s core services persisted, and was of considerable concern, he said.  Shortfalls in the past two years had literally been bridged at the last minute due to the generosity of donors.  There was currently a shortfall for 2011 of $46 million, which represented several weeks of operating costs, and major donors had already warned that substantial additional funding could not be expected this year.  Worse, the projected contributions in 2012-2013 fell substantially below the level required to achieve the Agency’s human development goals.  He urged all donors, including non-traditional ones and Arab States, to continue to find ways to increase funding, not just this year, but in years to come, in order to place the Agency’s work on firm and predictable financial footing.

He further said that the Agency had revitalized its resource mobilization strategy, and wished to strengthen ties with major donors.  He was encouraged by the response of new donors, such as Brazil, India and Turkey, while some countries, such as Iraq, had resumed funding after a gap of several years.  UNRWA was well aware that it needed to “do more with less”, and was thus moving towards reform.  The Agency continued to operate in an extremely volatile region, providing essential services to Palestine refugees.  The work needed to continue to be supported for the sake of the millions of people whose future depended on the attention and generosity of the international community, while a just and durable solution to the question of the Palestine refugees was pursued.

Interactive Dialogue

The representative of Israel asked why, when mentioning the situation in the Gaza Strip, the Commissioner-General had not mentioned that over the last few days, more than 60 rockets had targeted Israeli citizens, even as he spoke.

The Permanent Observer for Palestine said the people and leadership of Palestine were grateful for the outstanding work done by UNRWA for close to 5 million Palestine refugees.  The Agency operated in an “abnormal” situation.  The sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly was historic for Palestine in two ways — due to Palestine’s application for full membership and to Palestine being admitted as a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today.  Palestine would not have been able to wage the struggle that brought them to that moment without UNRWA, he added.

The representative of Venezuela stated that, in view of the report’s mention of the death of 87 Palestinians, including nine children, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she wished to know the tasks undertaken by the United Nations in guaranteeing the protection of civilians.

The representative of Egypt asked how UNRWA would address the budget deficit of almost $50 million.

The representative of Lebanon asked whether there was any estimate of the costs associated with the Israeli blockade in Gaza.

Responding to the question from Venezuela, Mr. GRANDI said that protection of civilians was exercised in many different ways by the United Nations system in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It was not well known that many potential protection problems were resolved through diplomacy with Israeli authorities at the field level, and it was necessary to express appreciation for that.  Advocacy was another important tool.

While the main responsibility for protection of civilians fell with agencies exclusively mandated for that, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNRWA had an important role to play when there were violations concerning Palestine refugees.  The Agency continued to make strides through its work in education, health, and by coordinating different agencies responsible for human rights.  Further, he said, protection was not limited to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but also to the larger region, including parts of Lebanon and Syria.

In response to the question from the representative of Egypt, he stated that currently, there was a shortfall of $46 million in the core budget, which was for running schools and hospitals and carrying out social work, the most important of UNRWA’s work.  That budget had to be funded as it paid the salaries of the teachers, doctors and nurses.  The Agency, therefore, was conducting intensive negotiations with three or four key donors to fill the deficit.  If the Agency was unable to fill a portion of the budget, it would be unable to pay salaries for the last month of 2011, which would mean postponing payment to the next year.  That would be the third year in a row that UNRWA was “down to the wire at the last minute”.  Donors frequently asked UNRWA to improve the way it planned.  But it was difficult to plan effectively when the Agency could not be sure if there would be money next month to pay salaries.  While acknowledging that it was a difficult time to ask funders for money, the problem was that the number and needs of the refugees were rapidly increasing, he said.

Regarding the cost of some of the procedures to be followed, he said in response to the question from Lebanon’s delegate, that it was difficult to make a comprehensive estimate.  Maximum vigilance should be exercised on the use of the materials that entered Gaza.  It was costly to exercise that level of vigilance, but UNRWA was doing so to the apparent satisfaction of the Israeli authorities.  In 2010, UNRWA spent almost $2 million on storage and transportation, in addition to what was spent to import goods into Gaza.  The cost for 2011 would be larger because of larger consignments, and that increased the cost of the measures.

Finally, in response to the representative of Israel, he stated that UNRWA had publicly condemned the killing of civilians in the areas of its operations, including those killed by rockets in Gaza.  That was clearly on record and in the report, though he had not gone into details; he also had expressed UNRWA’s appreciation of the security concerns of the Israeli authorities.

Statement on UNRWA Financing

ANDREAS LøVOLD (Norway), Rapporteur, Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introducing the Group’s report, stated that the urgency of replenishing the Agency’s working capital reserve was a matter of high priority.  By the end of September, the anticipated funding gap against the downsized 2011 budget was $47.6 million.  That structural financial crisis undermined the quality of services provided by UNRWA, made it difficult to comply with United Nations General Assembly-mandated initiatives, and resulted in increased hardships for the staff.

In view of the difficult humanitarian conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Working Group urged all potential donors to double and redouble their efforts to fully fund the Agency’s emergency appeals for 2011, he said.  Further, the General Assembly should review the current levels and scope of funding from the United Nations regular budget to UNRWA.

The Working Group recommended that, in view of the large gap expected in funding, new and traditional donors should step up to ensure that UNRWA’s services were maintained, he said.  The Working Group also expressed concern over the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and supported further opening of Gaza, consistent with, among others, Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).  The services provided by UNRWA were the minimum required, and the humanitarian problems faced by the Palestine refugees must be addressed as a shared international responsibility.  The Working Group, therefore, strongly urged all Member States to contribute as much as possible to UNRWA’s General Fund as a priority and a matter of urgency, but also to its emergency appeals and projects.

Debate

FEDA ABDELHADY NASSER, Permanent Observer Mission for Palestine, reaffirmed her gratitude to UNRWA staff in all its fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territory — for their commitment to the important mission of providing daily education, health, relief and emergency assistance to the Palestine refugee community.  She regretted that the Agency’s staff did not receive hazard pay, despite working in difficult and dangerous conditions.  The plight of the refugees remained of the highest priority for the Palestinian leadership, as it continued to exert all efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She said it was of deepest regret and greatest concern for the Palestinian people that the rights of the Palestine refugees continued to be impeded and that such a grave injustice continued, despite the determination made 63 years ago by the General Assembly in resolution 194 (III).  The failure to justly resolve the Question of Palestine due to Israel’s intransigence and total disrespect for international law had only compounded the historic and tragic effects of the Palestinian displacement and dispossession, and had enormously exacerbated the conflict.  As a result, the Palestine refugee question remained the largest and most protracted refugee question in the world.  More than half of the Palestinian people worldwide were refugees, now spanning three generations.

She voiced her delegation’s grave concern regarding Israel’s deplorable and ongoing undermining of UNRWA’s work, and its obstruction of refugee access to services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, by a vast regime of illegal policies and measures, which also continued to affect all aspects of life for the refugee community.  She reiterated Palestine’s deep appreciation for the principled global support for UNRWA’s mission, reflective of an abiding political and humanitarian commitment to the rights and well-being of the Palestine refugees.  Quoting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, she said the time had come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the Diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights.  It was the responsibility of the international community to fulfil the Palestinians’ longing for their rights and the stability, peace and justice they had been too long denied.

MAGED ABDEL AZIZ ( Egypt), Chair of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, remained deeply concerned about Israel’s persistent denial and violation of Palestinian refugee rights, and deeply regretted that illegal practices extended to include targeting UNRWA’s personnel and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, obstructing the Agency’s ability to uphold its mandate.  The Non-Aligned Movement condemned Israel’s breach of the inviolability of United Nations premises.  It called for Israel, the occupying Power, to respect its obligations under the United Nations Charter and the Fourth Geneva Convention and to allow the Agency unfettered access to its beneficiaries and to cease the military targeting of the Agency, the obstruction of its movement, harassment of its personnel and levying taxes on the Agency — all of which were undermining its work and imposing further financial burdens.

He reiterated the Movement’s call for the full lifting of Israel’s blockade, unjustly imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than four years and which had had a gravely detrimental impact on the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions of the refugee community and on the work of the Agency there.  In addition to permanently opening the crossings, the occupying Power must cease its restrictions on the import of construction materials, which were vital for the Agency to proceed with the construction of “desperately-needed” schools, housing and civilian infrastructure.  The Movement was also seriously concerned about Israel’s continued pursuit of settlement and wall construction and expansion, tight regime of closures, checkpoints, house demolitions, raid-and-arrest campaigns, and military operations, and he called on the international community to bear its responsibilities and ensure all those illegal actions were halted immediately. 

The Agency’s critical financial situation required the donor community and international financial institutions to help address its underfunded budget, he said.  A just and lasting solution of the Palestinian refugee question was absolutely vital for the settlement of the Question of Palestine and of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole, and he urged that all necessary efforts be exerted towards that goal, with the hope that Palestine would soon celebrate statehood, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union, commended the Agency and its staff.  As the Agency’s largest donor with 1.2 billion euros provided between 2000 and 2010, the European Union’s donations had reached 124 million euros by October 2011, which had already gone towards paying for salaries of refugee camp workers, teachers, doctors and social workers.  On top of this year’s allocation to the General Fund, the Union had also provided an additional contribution of 2.4 million euros, bringing its allocation to the General Fund for this year to 82.4 million euros.  A further 22 million euros had been mobilized from the Union’s so-called Instrument for Stability; 10 million euros were earmarked for UNRWA’s Gaza Early Recovery Programme, thus further consolidating the Union’s support to Palestine refugees in Gaza.  Some 12 million euros were allocated for reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared Camp in Lebanon.  The Union remained a strong supporter of the Agency’s summer games in Gaza.

He said that the European Union was particularly concerned about developments in Syria affecting UNRWA operations and regretted the attack in August on the Latakia area, in which the refugee camp was located.  The Union had immediately mobilized 11 million euros in project funding for youths in the camp.  The Union had emerged as the Agency’s most predictable and reliable donor, and was well aware of UNRWA’s financial difficulties and rising challenges.  In that light, it had already set in motion internal procedures to enable it to frontload its 2012 contribution to the Agency’s General Fund in order to ensure continuity of service delivery to Palestine refugees.  He strongly urged new donors to commit financially to UNRWA’s work and existing donors to increase their contributions.

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal) said that, given that the situation of Palestinian refugees had continued from past to present to be fraught with suffering and humiliation, with no other group of refugees having lived in such conditions for so long, there were many reasons to be pessimistic rather than optimistic.  How many voices were needed to find a solution that conformed to General Assembly resolutions 194 (III) and 302 (IV)? he asked. 

He said UNRWA had spared no effort to implement its programmes and provide services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees.  The international community must reiterate its appreciation by mobilizing resources to enable the Agency to help fully realize the potential of the refugees.  He emphasized that the United Nations had been mandated in 1974 to finance only a small part of UNRWA’s work, and it was deplorable that last year’s initiatives to bolster funding fell short of financing one of the Organization’s most important programmes.

MOHAMAD HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) said he was deeply disturbed by Israel’s continued violation of Palestinian refugee rights, and condemned the Gaza blockade, now in its fifth year of creating humanitarian difficulties for the refugees.  He called upon Israel to fully lift the blockade and open crossings.  The situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was no less worrisome, as settlement buildings expanded every month.  Israel’s offensive policy in that regard not only erected “the single most prominent obstacle to peace”, but also violated international law and complicated life for Palestinian refugees.

He commended UNRWA’s efforts, and its vital role in contributing to regional stability by, among others, improving Palestinians’ well-being and living conditions, which was an investment in the peace process.  He reiterated Indonesia’s strong support for Palestine’s recent application for membership to the United Nations, as a positive step in the right direction.  He called for the international community’s urgent attention to the Agency’s financial difficulties.  “Without attention to those issues, the programme of UNRWA would have to be abandoned or seriously cut back,” he said, “which would have serious consequences for the region.”  It was a critical time for those who wished for peace in the Middle East, and UNRWA’s work was a critical component of that wish.  While he commended the Agency for its achievements and its persistence in the last 60 years, it was now time to find ways to ensure that it could continue to do its work and thereby “help to fertilize the ground for the eventual planting of peace”.

PHAM VINH QUANG (Viet Nam) said that amid global economic turmoil and financial constraints, the Agency had kept its commitment to continue its great work.  He was deeply concerned about the critical security, the socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a result of Israel’s illegal actions, which included land confiscations, expansion of settlements and the repeated destruction of homes and infrastructure.  He called for urgent attention to the grave situation of Palestinian political prisoners, and supported the Non-Aligned Movement’s Declaration on Palestine Political Prisoners.  He regretted the hampering of UNRWA’s work due to restrictions of movement and damages to its infrastructure and facilities.  The Agency must be respected and actions that impeded its normal work must be eliminated, he said.

As a country that endured tremendous hardships and losses resulting from war, Viet Nam treasured every cause of peace and followed the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said.  To bring about peace in the Middle East, he called upon all concerned parties to resolve the conflict through political negotiations and refrain from any act that might prejudge the outcome of negotiations or erode confidence.  He urged Israel to stop construction of the separation wall and settlements and to lift all restrictive measures and ensure humanitarian access.  He appealed to all concerned parties to abide by international and humanitarian and human rights laws.  Viet Nam recognized the State of Palestine and would support its legitimate request for full United Nations membership.

He supported renewed efforts by the Quartet, the League of Arab States, regional countries and the United Nations to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, calling for intensified efforts by the international community, particularly the Security Council and the Quartet, to address the current political and humanitarian crisis and to promote just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli and the Arab-Israeli conflicts.

IHAB HAMED ( Syria) said that the international community should discharge its legal political and moral responsibility on the Question of Palestine.  An entire people had become victim to foreign colonizing designs that had led to the dispersion and expulsion of a whole people.  That “ethnic cleansing over decades” had violated all the principles of international humanitarian law.  More than six decades after the adoption of the General Assembly resolution 194, the international community was still unable to implement it.  It was no longer acceptable that the United Nations did not compel Israel to put an end to the occupation of Arab lands.

Further, he stated, Israel continued its inhuman blockade over Gaza, which it had destroyed during its 2008 aggression, hindered reconstruction, including of UNRWA schools and hospitals.  The report had expressed dire concern over the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where “the regime of apartheid hindered the fundamental rights”.  In addition to building the separation wall, the Israeli authorities continued to impede the freedom of movement of UNRWA personnel and equipment.  Those restrictions prevented UNRWA from upholding its mandate.

Syria, he added, was hosting more than half a million Palestinian refugees, whom it considered as “dear brothers”.  They could stay in Syria until they returned to their land.  Syria treated the Palestinian refugees on an equal footing with Syrian citizens.  Syria placed high emphasis on their protection and rights and reaffirmed the importance of continuing to support UNRWA and enabling its mandate.  He called on the countries that allocated billions of dollars to wars and provided military and financial assistance to Israel to reconsider their policies.  Allocating a tiny portion of such huge resources to the Palestinian refugees would alleviate their suffering.

MOHAMED ALFALAHI ( United Arab Emirates) said that his country was disappointed over the continued deprivation of the Palestinian refugees.  The United Arab Emirates strongly supported the special mandate given to UNRWA to provide housing, education, relief and social services to them.

Expressing deep concern over the increasing challenges facing the Agency in recent years, he said that the most dangerous of those was the illegal blockade by the Israeli authorities, which restricted the movement of the Palestinian refugees and blocked their access to international humanitarian assistance.  That also prevented the reconstruction of service institutions.  His country called on the international community to exert more pressure on Israel to lift the blockade.

During the past few years, the Agency had faced substantial financial deficits as its responsibilities had been increasing with the increase in refugees, he said.  His country, which had been consistently providing political, financial and moral support directly or indirectly to Palestinian refugees, had fully paid its current year’s contribution to the Agency’s budget.  He called on the international community and relevant financial institutions to double their regular amount of voluntary contributions.

TINE MORCH SMITH ( Norway) said the Agency’s long-standing financial shortfalls continued, and long-term challenges required a structural change, with the long-term solution being to enhance the donor base.  First, General Assembly members had a joint responsibility to ensure that UNRWA became more properly funded by the United Nations regular budget.  Second, further improvements were needed in the quality of the Agency’s education, health and relief to the poor in order that UNRWA could better serve the Palestine refugees.  Third, a reassessment of the Agency’s cooperation with all other stakeholders and partners was needed.  It made no sense if some organizations were overfunded, while others remained chronically underfunded.

“We need to develop new ideas,” he said.  “The human resource base in the refugee camps is underutilized.  Innovative ideas are needed, as to how the camps can produce products and services, to improve income and living conditions for those staying there.”  One idea would be a camp-based pilot programme where key stakeholders, including the private sector, could be partners for improving economic production.  There should be a way of integrating the camp population with expert skills and graduate knowledge, to play a more active role in improving refugees’ lives, he said.  “The refugee camps need to be producers,” he said.  “If they succeed, our financial assistance will have higher impact.”

Taking into consideration the significant and documented process made in making Palestine ready for statehood, he underlined the important role UNRWA was playing in service delivery for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.  The Agency had had been a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood.  Further improvements were necessary in order to develop the social fabric and to improve the basic foundation for a Palestinian State.

ABDULMOHSEN ALYAS (Saudi Arabia) urged UNRWA to continue offering services to all Palestinian refugees, and said, given the expansion of programmes, donor countries should double contributions in an effort to alleviate the Agency’s financial troubles.  His country had increased donations to $86.7 million this year, in addition to $200 million for Al-Aqsa projects, managed by the Islamic Bank for Development, UNRWA and the World Bank.  Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the continuous siege on the Gaza Strip and demanded the immediate cessation of that unjust blockade and of all arbitrary measures and restrictions imposed on all international aid agencies, he said.  He demanded the removal of the segregated separation wall in the West Bank due to its illegality, according to the International Court of Justice and General Assembly resolutions.  He called for the international community to compel Israel to compensate UNRWA for all the damages and losses it had caused to the Agency’s property and buildings.

He said that the Middle East problem remained one of the most persisting international peace and security obstacles.  The Israeli colonization was practically the last remaining vestiges of the age of colonialism and apartheid, he said, noting that Saudi Arabia had participated in all international peace conferences and had proposed a peace initiative adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002.  Financial support for the refugees was not the sole solution to their problems, he said.  What was largely required at that stage was political support, especially from the international community, to resolve the Palestinian issue and to recognize their State by the United Nations in accordance with the 4 June 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and the return of the refugees to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on United Nations resolutions, which would restore security and stability in the entire region.

EIHAB OMAISH ( Jordan) said his country had always sought to find a solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees in keeping with international law, and particularly resolution 194, which provided for the return of refugees and compensation for their properties.  UNRWA’s role would remain important until a solution to the question of the Palestine refugees could be found.  Receiving the most Palestinian refugees, first in 1948 and again in 1967, Jordan suffered financial burdens on its budget, which was in deficit.  According to reports from the Palestinian Affairs Service in the country, Jordan was expected to spend more than $200 million in services to the Palestinians.  There was a disconnect in that Jordan had more than 40 per cent of the refugees and yet received only some 20 per cent of UNRWA’s budget allocation for such services.

He said he could not accept a diminished level of UNRWA services, as that would compound despair, frustration and inequity among the refugees and could destabilize the region.  He urged all donor countries to stand by their financial commitments, and even to increase them, appealing to the international community as a whole to work together and step up its efforts.  He further called on UNRWA to extend its work into other regions of Jordan, since 82 per cent of Palestine refugees in Jordan lived outside the camps.  He said his Government would like to give the Agency a greater range in improving services, including for health, and welcomed the role of the Norwegian Government, which had funded the implementation of a project to study the situation of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

ZHANG CHANGWEI ( China) said that UNRWA was conducting its work in very difficult circumstances.  The humanitarian situation was very challenging in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in Gaza.  The blockade had made the life of the refugees very difficult.  China urged the Israeli authorities to lift the blockade so that humanitarian aid and commodities could reach the refugees, and it urged the international community to work closely in getting more economic aid to the refugees.  The donors should honour their commitments as quickly as possible.

He said his country had always supported UNRWA’s work, and was concerned about its shortage of funds.  Since 1981, China had donated to the Agency every year and would continue that support.  China had also always supported the cause of establishing an independent Palestinian State and backed Palestine’s application to become a full member of the United Nations.

Archbishop FRANCIS CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, said that the report of UNRWA pointed to a crucial “fault line” developing in the region.  As the global economic crisis worsened, the financial picture of UNRWA did too.  UNRWA, as well as non-governmental organizations operating on behalf of the refugees, was approaching a breaking point.

The resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, he stated, was the key to resolving so many of the problems of the Middle East.  The two-State solution had the best chance for resolving the suffering of the refugees.  The lack of resolution to that problem had become a thorn in the side with worldwide implications, as the issue had been exploited by many for geopolitical gains.  In the meantime, a new generation had been born into the status of refugees, just as three previous ones had been.

The Holy City of Jerusalem was the spiritual patrimony of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, he said, calling on the parties to negotiate in good faith to ensure that Jerusalem represented religious freedom and access to holy sites for people of all faiths and nationalities.  The international community must facilitate meaningful negotiations and reasonable compromise to secure a just and lasting peace.

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