Cairo, Egypt, 10 March 2009 - Secretary-General's message to the UN Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People (delivered by Ms. Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)It is my pleasure to send greetings to the participants in this United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
Recent developments have complicated the political, humanitarian and socio-economic aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Thousands of Gazans were killed and injured, dispossessed and displaced in the recent hostilities, and are now living with pain and hardship. Israelis also suffered casualties and face the future with fear and despair.
When I visited Gaza in January, I expressed my solidarity with the Palestinian people in their suffering, and paid tribute to the courageous, hardworking United Nations staff on the ground. What I witnessed reinforced my conviction that there must be an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and an end to the conflict. We must not allow the events of the past two months to wipe out the progress that had been made toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
At this difficult moment, I call for a proper and durable ceasefire as soon as possible to allow for a return of calm in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. The situation at the crossings is intolerable, and it is crucial that Israel take meaningful steps to ease the closure, without which Palestinian economic recovery cannot take place. A ceasefire should pave the way for the reopening of all Gaza crossings based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Security Council resolution 1860 embodies these basic parameters.
Reconstruction and development in Gaza will also require Palestinian reconciliation. I look forward to the commencement of the work of the committees here in Cairo today. I strongly urge Palestinians to find unity and common ground. I commend the untiring efforts of the Egyptian Government acting as a facilitator among the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. The support of leaders in the region will be vital to bolstering any future agreements. I am hopeful that the incoming Israeli Government will honour earlier commitments, engage in political negotiations and conclude a peace accord with the Palestinians.
In the West Bank, Prime Minister Fayyad's efforts to improve security arrangements – an obligation under the Road Map – have borne fruit. Relative calm prevailed even during the Gaza crisis. But Israeli raids continue; checkpoints and curfews are still present; and settlement activity has accelerated, with a 69 per cent increase in new structures in 2008 over the previous year. Plans for settlement expansion at the expense of Palestinian land are in place. This goes against Israel's Road Map obligations, which were reaffirmed by both parties before the Quartet at Sharm el-Sheikh last November. Action to meet these commitments is long overdue.
Last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, I participated in the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza. Even after the fighting, some 90 per cent of Gazans remain dependent on humanitarian aid for food and medicine. This situation is untenable. I welcome the generosity of international donors at a time when humanitarian needs are expected to worsen in light of the global food and financial crises. It is critical that contributions in support of the Palestinian Authority's Gaza Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan reach those in need as soon as possible.
Only a permanent negotiated political settlement, which ends the occupation, can provide a sustainable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and lasting security for Israel. The United Nations will continue to do its part towards realizing the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Please accept my best wishes for the success of your deliberations.
Statements on 10 March 2009