|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
341st Meeting (PM)
Palestinian Rights Committee Reviews Latest Political Developments, Operational
Challenges Facing United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees
Permanent Observer Urges Security Council to Condemn Illegal Settlements,
Israeli Government to Halt ‘Mass Acceleration of Its Colonization Programme’
In the wake of the Israeli Government’s announcement to grant legal status to three settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, the Security Council must resolve to condemn Israel’s illegal settlement activity, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this afternoon.
“We must not allow the two-State solution to be destroyed by the Israeli Government’s irresponsible practices and mass acceleration of its colonization programme,” Mr. Mansour said, expressing concern over the lack of political will in the Council to condemn Israel’s most recent action.
Instead of restarting peace talks, ending settlement building and accepting the pre-1967 borders as the foundation of the two-State solution — as called for by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his 17 April letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Israel had stepped up settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Mr. Mansour said. Moreover, the Likud Party had submitted a request to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, and prepare for early elections on 4 September — a move which indicated Israeli authorities likely would not respond to the Palestinians until after that date.
The Palestinian Authority expected an answer soon from Mr. Netanyahu and for Israel to fulfil all previous agreements, including the release of all political prisoners held captive since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, Mr. Mansour said. It must lift the Gaza blockade and remove all Israeli soldiers from Palestinian land, he said, stressing that “we will not accept even one Israeli soldier”.
The 11 April statement by the Middle East Quartet — comprising the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation — fell short of many things, but its expression of concern over settler violence was positive and its demands that Israel take effective measures to end it must in fact be translated into practical action, Mr. Mansour said.
He lauded last week’s statement of concern by the Committee’s Bureau over Israel’s move to legalize the settlement outposts. Moreover, last week’s Council meeting on the Middle East illustrated the international community’sunanimous outrage over Israel’s action in the West Bank. He expressed hope that the massive hunger strike begun last week by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would bring pressure on Israel, the occupying Power, to respond.
Lastly, acknowledging refugees’ concerns over cuts in services and programmes of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he implored all nations to bolster funding to the cash-strapped Agency.
Richard Wright, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in New York, discussed the operational challenges in the field faced by the Agency, which provides educational, health-care, relief, social, housing and microfinance services to 5 million Palestinian refugees, of which 1.2 million lived in absolute poverty. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, as well as the revocation of residency permits continued. Most recently, 67 refugees, more than half of them children, were forcibly displaced due to home evictions or demolitions. Settler violence and attacks on Palestinians had risen dramatically; from January to mid-April alone, UNRWA recorded more than 160 incidents of violence, which had injured at least 44 Palestinians, including six minors.
In Gaza, Israel’s blockade continued to thwart the Agency’s efforts to meet refugees’ increasing needs, Mr. Wright said. However, a slight easing of access of goods into the enclave had enabled UNRWA to rebuild schools and refugee homes damaged during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009. In March, Israel had issued the first new building permits in nine months. Permits and materials were only provided for one third of the total project needs. Recently, 223 housing units funded by the Netherlands and a health centre and a library funded by Bahrain were completed.
In Lebanon, the Nahr el Bared Camp, destroyed in 2007, remained under construction, he said. Thus far, donors had contributed about half of the estimated $340 million needed to remove rubble and complete the project, which was vital to end the displacement of some 27,000 people. The Lebanese Government’s newly amended labour law could provide Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with better access to a large number of professions, but it had yet to be implemented. In Jordan, which hosted 2 million refugees, the largest number, the Agency faced challenges to maintain the quality and level of service. In Syria, some educational and health services were temporarily curtailed due to the ongoing conflict there.
Mr. Wright said the lack of financial resources was the biggest obstacle to serving refugees more effectively. The Agency’s total budget of $1.3 billion included $620 million for the General Fund, which paid for basic health, education, relief and protection services, as mandated by the General Assembly. But the General Fund would have a $55 million shortfall in 2012. Moreover, last month, the Agency ran out of funds for cash assistance to the poorest. UNRWA’s 2012 emergency appeal of $300 million would aim to facilitate job creation, food aid, remedial education, cash aid, protection and psycho-social support for the most affected refugees.
“Efforts to shore up and strengthen the budget need to be continued with vigour,” he said, appealing to all donors to do their maximum in order to overcome the Agency’s deficit. While the European Union, United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to contribute the lion’s share of UNRWA funding, many Gulf States had contributed substantially, and with a $2 million donation, Iraq had resumed its contributions last year. Recently, Brazil pledged $7.5 million. The Agency was making efforts to diversify and expand its funding base, he said, noting the recent creation of a Partnership Unit to receive contributions in cash and in kind from foundations, wealthy individuals, and the private sector.
Earlier, Committee Chairman Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal) outlined recent developments since the Committee’s last meeting on 27 March. On 30 March, the Arab League Summit in Baghdad had confirmed that a “fair and comprehensive peace in the region would not be achieved without full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Palestinian and other Arab lands to the border line of June 4, 1967”. On 11 April, the Quartet principals released a statement after their meetings in Washington, calling on the international community to ensure the contribution of $1.1 billion to meet the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 financing requirements.
He also said that, on 17 April, Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat had delivered a letter by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which reportedly reiterated Palestinian demands for restarting the peace talks, including an end to settlement building and acceptance of the pre-1967 borders as the foundation of the two-State solution. But on 24 April, the Israeli Government had announced that it had granted legal status to three settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, a move that drew sharp Palestinian and international condemnation. Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said the change of the three outposts’ status marked the first time since 1990 that the Israeli Government had established a new settlement. In response, Mr. Erekat said that Palestinian leaders were examining ways to secure a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity.
On April 25, he noted, the Committee’s Bureau had adopted a statement expressing its utmost concern about the Israeli Government’s recent decision to legalize three settlement outposts. It also had denounced Israel’s relentless demolition of Palestinian homes and dwellings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and called on the Security Council to meet its legal obligations and to compel Israel to halt and dismantle settlements in order to safeguard the two-State solution.
Preceding the meeting today was the screening of the film This is My Land… Hebron. The Committee Chairman said it served as a testimony of the intolerable situation in that Palestinian town, where a few hundred hard-core settlers, with the Israeli Army’s support, had imposed their will on 160,000 Palestinians. The film served as testimony for the often unbearable living conditions of Palestinians under occupation and it stressed the need for immediate, concerted global efforts to alleviate the Palestinian’s plight and install measures to protect them. The temporary international presence in Hebron since 1997 of Norway, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey was a significant effort towards that end, but it must be expanded and a political solution must be found.
In other business, the Committee took note of the report of the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine and the consultations with civil society organizations, held in Geneva from 3 to 5 April. The report was introduced by Committee Rapporteur Christopher Grima ( Malta).
The Committee also approved the provisional programme for the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, to be held from 30 to 31 May, on the theme “the role of youth and women in the peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine”, and the United Nations Meeting of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to be held on 1 June, on the theme “civil society action towards ending the occupation: Harnessing the power of youth and women”. Both meetings would take place at the Paris Headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on 16 May to hear a briefing by Mr. Erakat on the political situation.
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