|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
United Nations Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People Examines Assistance,
Growth, Aid Dependency in Effort to Spur Sustainable Development
NAIROBI, 2 July — Ahead of the closing today of the United Nations Seminar, participants considered mobilization of global assistance to the Palestinian people and its effective use for sustainable growth in the context of a new aid paradigm, hearing that foreign aid might not be the key to unlock development, as many had thought.
Opening the third plenary session, Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, noted that East Asia had experienced “transformative economic change in the last few decades, with little external aid”. The new package of 17 sustainable development goals currently being discussed would be universal and transformative, and would have a cross-cutting effect on national social, economic, environmental and political efforts. That would set the stage for very high expectations about the possibilities in a world without occupation and exploitation — one in which human rights were universally protected.
Unfortunately, he said, the new goals would have little applicability to Palestine under the current circumstances of colonization and occupation — a political construct that was truly anathema in the twenty-first century. “So when we think of Palestine in the context of a new development paradigm, it cannot be that the situation in Palestine continues the way it has been for the last 30 or 40 years,” he said, stressing the occupation was a direct contradiction to those goals.
Mutasim Elagraa, senior economist with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, addressed the issue of enlarging the Palestinian economic policy space to promote sustainable development and competitiveness, breaking the cycle of aid dependency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said that the high Palestinian unemployment rate underlined the severity of the socio-economic conditions, because it masked declining wages, low productivity, protracted unemployment spells and low participation, particularly of women, in the labour force.
Mr. Elagraa also drew attention to significant “revenue leakage” from direct and indirect imports into the Territory, explaining that 39 per cent of official Palestinian imports from Israel were actually transiting Israel from a third country before being re-exported to the Occupied Palestinian Territory duty-free, as if they had been produced in Israel. UNCTAD estimated that, in 2010 and 2011, that had resulted in $115 million in annual revenue lost to Israel. Smuggled goods were another major problem, as approximately 25 to 35 per cent of imports entered illegally. Revenue leakage caused an estimated loss of 4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), he said, adding that recovering that revenue could create some 9,000 jobs.
In that context, he argued for greater economic policy space for the Palestinian Government, and stressed that the use of the Israeli shekel greatly limited the policy options, as Palestine, lacking its own currency, was unable to pursue independent monetary, exchange rate and interest rate policies, having to rely on fiscal tools instead. However, in the discussion, he acknowledged that the issuance of a Palestinian currency was, at present, out of reach, owing to the need for additional training for the Central Bank and an overall lack of confidence in the economic situation.
Itay Epshtain, representing the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) — a coordinating body of more than 70 international non-governmental organizations presently working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — delved into the issue of mobilizing, coordinating and delivering developmental and humanitarian assistance. The Association’s advocacy efforts derived from a collective understanding that the context of the Occupied Palestinian Territory was one of a prolonged occupation, whereby Israel, as the occupying Power, had imposed several restrictive policies and practices that created or increased humanitarian needs and impeded development. In that setting, the organization’s members understood that the sustainability of their aid and development efforts was largely dependent on policy change.
Further highlighting challenges to aid distribution to Palestinians, he said that while the Association recognized Israel’s legitimate security concerns, the land, sea and air restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip might very well be in contravention of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. Stressing that those must be lifted, he said that where security threats necessitated the curtailing of the free movement of people and goods, that must comply with international law and be proportionate to a specific threat. Those must also be temporary in nature, he said, noting that current constraints hit the poorest the hardest, impeded development of a sustainable local economy, and increased food insecurity and aid dependency. Those also undermined access to specialized health and education services, as well as restricted normal family life. It was incumbent on the international community to press both Israel and Egypt to drastically reduce the restricted access to the Gaza Strip, he said, highlighting specific incidents where the Israeli military commander had obstructed donor assistance and, in some cases, destroyed aid infrastructure.
In closing remarks, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, said that while many of the presentations had been gloomy, the objective was to inform participants so as to well equip them to discuss the issues in detail with their counterparts, in defence of the rights of the Palestinian People. It was important to help the Palestinian people “stay in their homeland”. Many, he added, lived in crowded homes, sometimes seven or eight persons to a room, but still chose to stay. Israel’s occupation must cease and independence of the State of Palestine must be achieved, he insisted, drawing an analogy to previous situations in African countries.
While he underlined the Palestinian Government’s condemnation of the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, he said the murders did not justify collective punishment. As in the case of the three Israeli teenagers, he counted on the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General to all condemn the murder of a Palestinian teenager that day, stressing that human rights must be equally applied.
The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), recapped the two days of the Seminar and noted that Mr. Mansour’s presentation of the Palestinian National Development Plan for 2014-2015 was especially important, given the clear need to begin implementation. Presentations from various United Nations bodies about the reality on the ground had reminded participants of the moral responsibility to combat the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people. Stressing the need for unwavering support to the Palestinian State in solidifying its Government and economy, he said “collective solidarity with the Palestinian people must take the shape of concrete assistance for long-term sustainable development and growth”.
He also reminded participants about the recently launched “Initiative for the Palestinian Economy”, a strategy put forward by United States Secretary of State John Kerry. Aimed at revitalizing the Palestinian economy, stimulating local and foreign investment and creating job opportunities and economic growth, the Initiative, he noted, was intended to complement a peace process, as it brought the Palestinian people long-awaited peace dividends.
Concluding the work of the Seminar, Mr. Diallo said that “while the peace process has yet to bear the fruits we had all hoped for, we must all redouble our efforts to support the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination and independence, allowing them to live free from occupation and in a thriving economy”. Noting that 2014 was the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he called on all the Governments to show concrete support in standing with the Palestinian people.
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