Fifty-seventh General Assembly
20th Meeting (AM)
FOURTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES DEBATE ON UN RELIEF AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES;
DETERIORATING MIDDLE EAST SITUATION, AGENCY'S FINANCIAL PROBLEMS HIGHLIGHTED
The deteriorating environment in which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was forced to carry out its humanitarian mission, as well as its persistent financial problems, were among the issues highlighted this morning, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its general debate on the Agency's activities.
Describing UNRWA as a "symbol of the commitment by the international community to the question of Palestinian refugees", Morocco's representative said the Agency now found itself facing enormous challenges, as a result of Israeli military operations in Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps. The difficult financial situation facing the Agency had prevented it from providing necessary services at a time when they were most needed.
He appealed to donor countries to increase their financial support to UNRWA activities, including through regular budget and voluntary contributions. In light of the continued Israeli aggression and "economic strangulation" of the occupied territories, it was imperative that the international community maintain the quality and scope of services to refugees, until a just settlement of the question had been reached.
Also concerned over ever-worsening circumstances, such as Israel's implementation of closures, curfews and other restrictive measures, the representative of Bahrain said that the Agency had expressed concern for the destruction of its facilities and infrastructure, especially in the Jenin refugee camp. The Working Group on the Agency's Financing had also expressed alarm at the adverse impact on humanitarian operations from measures adopted to deal with repeated deficits in financing.
Pointing to a possible way to improve the Agency's financial situation, Zambia's representative said that the burden of supporting the work of UNRWA should not be left to a few countries, but should be the responsibility of all. All Member States with the ability to do so should contribute generously to the Agency. Brotherly States in the Middle East, however, could match their well-known political commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people with deeds. Raising their combined contribution to half of UNRWA's budget would not only be of great political significance, but would also greatly improve the Agency's funding.
While the issue of the Palestinian refugees was of special importance, the representative of Lebanon said that the 387,000 refugees hosted in his country,
representing 10 per cent of the total population, represented a large body that Lebanon did not have the capacity to absorb. His Government believed that the Palestinian refugees should return to their homes and property, which was their inalienable right. That was also the position of the refugees themselves, who had rejected repatriation in the places where they had taken refuge. The ultimate solution for the refugees was dealing with the cause, which was the occupation.
Also speaking this morning were the representatives of the United States, Japan, Cyprus, Bangladesh, South Africa, Kuwait, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Observers for the Holy See and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also addressed the Committee.
Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, as well as the observer for Palestine.
The Fourth Committee will meet again on Monday, 11 November, to take up consideration of Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). (For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/251 of 4 November.)
CINDY COSTA (United States) said the United States was deeply concerned about the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees that were served by UNRWA. In recent months, the United States had coordinated closely with the “Quartet” and other major donors on efforts to address the economic plight of the entire Palestinian civilian population. The United States' deep commitment to the welfare of Palestinian refugees was reflected in its 2002 contribution to the Agency of almost $120 million, of which $30 million was for UNRWA's emergency activities in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States was UNRWA's largest contributor to both the regular budget and emergency appeals.
During the past year, Israelis and Palestinians alike suffered the consequences of terrorism and a deteriorating security environment, she said. The situation had presented important challenges for the Agency. UNRWA's efforts to provide essential services in its five fields of operations, as well as its ongoing emergency operations in the West Bank and Gaza, had been remarkable. Even against the backdrop of difficult circumstances, however, UNRWA must continue its management reform process. While UNRWA had made some progress in that regard, effective management reform must also include steps to revitalize UNRWA's relationship with its stakeholders. The United States had encouraged UNRWA to look closely at specific measures to improve that relationship. Strengthening the partnership between the Agency and stakeholders could only strengthen the welfare of the Palestinian refugees.
She said the United States would like to be able to support all the resolutions regarding the Agency, provided the language remained focused on humanitarian concerns of the refugees and the assistance provided to them by UNRWA. She encouraged all Member States to demonstrate their concern about Palestinian refugees through financial contributions. The United States planned to continue a high level of support.
IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said UNRWA had been established as a temporary and emergency measure to provide relief to nearly 1 million Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their land by Israel. Despite the passage of nearly half a century and an increase in the number of refugees to nearly 4 million, the General Assembly still found itself forced to renew the agency’s mandate every three years, because Israel continued to reject resolutions that called for giving Palestinian refugees the right of return. Israel had caused a tragedy in expelling millions of people, almost one-third of whom lived in 59 refugee camps. It had also deliberately deprived them of income from their private property, thus infringing on the simplest rules of human rights. And Israel had not stopped there, but rather tried to get at the Agency itself, with aggression and attacks.
Israel had not paid its contribution to the Agency, he continued. According to the Commissioner-General's report, Israel had: abused the Agency’s staff, killing and injuring a number of them; destroyed refugee camps; destroyed the Agency’s facilities and turned its schools into prisons; imposed restrictions on the freedom of mobility of the Agency’s staff and impeded their mission; and kept $22.5 million that should have been paid to Agency. He called on the international community to bring to an end Israel’s infringements on the Agency and its staff.
He said the issue of the Palestinian refugees was of special importance for Lebanon, in which the number of refugees was more than 387,000. That constituted nearly 10 per cent of the refugees displaced in the five work areas of UNRWA, and 10 per cent of the total population of Lebanon. The major points of Lebanese policy on that front rested on the following: the necessity that the Palestinian refugees should return to their homes and property, which was an inalienable right; and rejecting any form of repatriation of the Palestinian refugees on Lebanese territory. That latter point was based on three further aspects -- that the principle of rejecting repatriation had become an article of the Lebanese Constitution, that the Palestinian refugees represented a large body that Lebanon did not have the capacity to absorb and that the refugees had rejected repatriation in places where they had taken refugee. They insisted their right to return and the establishment of an independent State.
It was important that UNRWA continue to give the issue the highest priority, he added. That could be done through registering the Palestinian refugees and issuing identity cards, indexed for them, and through other measures to preserve their political entity as refugees and their belonging to Palestine, so that they could be ready when the time came to return to their homeland. In conclusion, the ultimate solution for the refugees was dealing with the causes, not the results, of the issue. The main cause was the occupation. The international community should obligate Israel to choose peace and accept the implementation of resolutions of international legitimacy, to withdraw from all occupied territories and to allow the right of return, self-determination and the establishment of an independent State for the Palestinians.
KATSUHIKO TAKAHASHI (Japan) said that more than two years had passed since the violent clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities had begun. The cycle of violence continued unabated and there was little sign that the situation was improving. It was, in fact, deteriorating in some aspects. Japan was deeply concerned over the difficulties and hardships of refugees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UNRWA staff were facing increasing difficulties and challenges, such as the difficulty of gaining access to those in need and of coordinating Agency activities with those of other humanitarian actors on the ground. Such problems posed obstacles to improving the truly desperate social and economic conditions of Palestinian refugees.
He urged both the Israelis and the Palestinians to break the cycle of violence. In particular, Japan called on Israel to exert maximum self-restraint in its use of force, and the Palestinian Authority to make utmost efforts to suppress extremist acts. The violent situation could not justify hampering the mobility of UNRWA personnel and the delivery of relief supplies. The stability of the Middle East as a whole was vitally important to Japan. Japan's recent focus had been the reform of the Palestinian Authority, which was vital for the long-term consolidation of peace and conflict prevention.
As an active member of the international Task Force on Palestinian Reform, Japan would continue to contribute in that area, he said. Japan was determined to continue to support the Palestinian refugees. The Agency, he noted, continued to face financial difficulties. He hoped it would continue efforts to conduct its work as efficiently and effectively as possible. UNRWA played a vital role in the region and he hoped the international community would remain committed to supporting it.
GEORGE KASOULIDES (Cyprus) said that, over the last five decades, UNRWA had survived adverse conditions, and the last two years had been particularly cruel and taxing. It was only through the personal dedication of the staff that the Agency had managed to survive, save lives and preserve its human resource development programme in such tragic conditions. The latest crisis in the Middle East had created an explosive situation and dramatically deteriorating living standards and conditions, especially for the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. Living in conditions of overcrowding, deprivation and abject poverty, the refugees depended for their survival on the generosity of the Agency. To continue to support the Agency was the least the international community could do.
Cyprus shared close and friendly ties with its Near East neighbours, he continued, and had fervent hopes for lasting peace and security in the Middle East. The backbone of the economic and social structure of the Palestinian people needed to be preserved for better days to come. Moreover, Cyprus shared the Commissioner-General’s concern over the financial difficulties faced by the Agency in carrying out its programmes and providing refugees with the minimum of necessities.
The last two years had brought no good news from the region, he added. Firmly believing that the drive towards peace would resume and history would not repeat itself, Cyprus upheld the crucial role of UNRWA today. Its operations needed to be put on a secure financial footing. In that context, Cyprus had joined the appeals for additional and increased contributions and remained ready to implement its own scheme of assistance, which included programmes of technical assistance and training for Palestinian officials and civil servants, as soon as the situation returned to normalcy.
MWELWA C. MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) said the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, which had gone on far too long, was known to all. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had recently reported that over 250 West Bank villages not linked to the general water distribution network experienced water shortages on a regular basis. To offset that problem, water was collected on roofs in the winter and stored in underground tanks. The system, although not perfect, had worked relatively well. But, with the frequent closures, prolonged curfews and restrictions on the movement of peoples, a serious water shortage was looming. The situation was even worse in Hebron where water was particularly scarce.
UNRWA had been unable to deliver humanitarian supplies to its distribution centres and installations, including schools, training centres and health care facilities destroyed by Israeli forces, he added. The situation could not be allowed to continue. He called on Israel to stop destroying UNRWA facilities and disrupting its operations. The destruction of UNRWA installations placed a new and unnecessary burden on the Agency's resources.
While there had been some encouraging developments in the Agency's regular cash budget, donor pledges for 2002 left a gap of some $37.9 million, he said. He thanked the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Community, whose combined contributions was more than half of the total contributions for the year. The burden of supporting the work of UNRWA should not be left to a few countries, but should be the responsibility of all. He strongly appealed to Member States in a position to do so to contribute generously. He especially appealed to brotherly States in the Middle East to match their well-known political commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people with deeds. Raising their combined contribution to half of UNRWA's budget would not only be of great political significance, but would also greatly improve the Agency's financial position.
SHAMEEM AHSAN (Bangladesh) said the challenges facing the Agency in carrying out its mandated tasks needed to be addressed. Most of the challenges were caused by the continued Israeli occupation. Israeli forces had broken new ground by taking over new schools, preventing ambulances from moving patients and killing UNRWA staff. It had also damaged the Agency's infrastructure, increased restrictions on the movement of personnel and material and imposed a "tax on humanitarian aid". Such incremental obstructive measures pointed to Israel's calculated effort to undermine the role of an organization devoted to a noble humanitarian mission. The international community must condemn such measures.
He called on Israel to halt actions in violation of international humanitarian law. The Agency had also suffered strains on its institutional capacity. The cost of repairing its infrastructure and the slower response to emergency appeals had compounded the Agency's difficulties. Having to adjust to harsh illegal measures imposed by Israel, the Agency had incurred additional expenditures at the expense of its humanitarian activities.
The Agency continued to undertake its responsibilities with courage, he said. It had adopted innovative solutions to those challenges in many fields, including education. The performance of UNRWA schools, despite the loss of school hours, was praiseworthy. Microcredit and micro-enterprise programmes were a proven way of empowering people, especially women. The Agency had done well in restoring cooperative measures with the various United Nations agencies in the field to meet the health and sanitation needs of areas destroyed by Israeli forces. The financial difficulty the Agency faced and the crumbling peace process required different strategies. A basic parameter, which the Agency had already embraced, was to work towards local capacity-building. Another laudable effort was to promote local ownership of community-based organizations involved in social services. The Agency needed all the support that could be provided. While traditional support was praiseworthy, more was needed. In a volatile region, the Agency played a stabilizing role.
LINDA MASO (South Africa) expressed his country’s concern over the adverse impact of Israeli curfews and closures on economic conditions in the occupied territories, particularly the increase in unemployment and poverty to unacceptable levels. Medical conditions among the Palestinian people had also deteriorated, due to closures and curfews that hindered the delivery of health care services and precipitated the decline in water supply and sanitation conditions. Those circumstances rendered vital the services that UNRWA provided. Thus, Israel’s practices of impeding the movement of UNRWA staff and goods must be deplored and the destruction and damage of the Agency’s infrastructure and facilities, as well
as the use of such facilities as detention and interrogation centres, condemned. Israel must fulfil its obligations under the relevant instruments of international law.
He was also concerned with the acute funding problems faced by UNRWA in the face of an enormous humanitarian emergency. Therefore, his Government strongly supported the Commissioner-General’s call for major donors to make every effort to assist the Agency in meeting its urgent requirements for relief. The South African Government had facilitated the delivery of emergency medical supplies to the Palestinian people in July 2002, as an expression of the solidarity felt with the Palestinians.
The ultimate solution to the present crisis, he added, resided with the ending of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the realization of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Reiterating its support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, South Africa also called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land occupied since 1967, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (1948). Furthermore, negotiation was the only means of ensuring lasting peace, security and stability in the region. The implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002) remained the only basis for achieving a just, comprehensive and durable settlement to the Middle East conflict. Finally, the international community must ensure respect for international humanitarian law, as Israel’s policies constituted a collective punishment of the civilian population and thus violated the Fourth Geneva Convention.
MOHAMMAD AL-SHAMLAN (Kuwait) stressed the importance of the Palestine refugee question and international responsibility to provide services for refugees until that question was settled. While great financial difficulties were impeding the Agency's work, he hoped UNRWA's services would continue and expand in all areas of its operations. It was important that the Agency fulfil its mandate in the five fields of operations. It was also important to maintain UNRWA's programmes without burdening refugees with any additional financial costs. He commended the reform of UNRWA's administration. He reiterated Kuwait's commitment to providing economic assistance to the Palestinian refugees and noted its contribution of some $1.5 million.
The suffering of the Palestinians continued, he added. Brutal Israeli practices had not stopped since September 2000. Israel continued to reoccupy areas and to carry out massive military campaigns in contravention of international law. Israel justified its uncalled-for policies as necessary for its national security. The Israeli authorities were placing obstacles before UNRWA, in contravention of numerous agreements.
Kuwait expressed full solidarity with the Palestinian people, he said. He called on Israel to honour the framework of the peace process, namely Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the land for peace formula. Regarding an overall settlement, the recent Arab peace initiative was a new approach for ensuring a fair and lasting solution that ensured the rights of both sides of the conflict. He hoped UNRWA would overcome its financial difficulties, so that it could continue to provide services to the Palestine refugees.
FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) said that the information contained in the Commissioner-General’s report and statement represented a basis for resolving the impediments facing the Agency and facilitating the completion of the lofty task for which it was established. The deteriorating circumstances surrounding Israel’s continued occupation and the implementation of closures, curfews and other restrictive measures had led the advisory committee of the Agency to express concern over the grave humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories. Concerning UNRWA, the committee had expressed its concern for the destruction of the Agency’s facilities and infrastructure, especially in the Jenin refugee camp.
The question of the Palestinian refugees had continued for more than five decades, he continued. They faced continually deteriorating living conditions, due to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. The Working Group on Financing the Agency had expressed its alarm at the adverse impact on humanitarian operations from measures adopted to deal with repeated deficits in financing. The advisory committee of the Agency had also expressed its concern over the international community’s delay in responding to appeals for financing. It was hoped that the Agency could overcome the current crisis through increased resource flows.
The core of the problem of the Palestinian refugees was political, he added. Some parties had refrained from implementing General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), which said that Palestinian refugees should return to their homeland and their properties. As a result, the Agency had become permanent and indispensable, until such a time as a solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees was reached, in accordance with international legitimacy.
MOHAMMED ARROUCHI (Morocco) said UNRWA was a symbol of the commitment by the international community to the question of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA now found itself facing enormous challenges, as a result of the continuation of the Israeli military operations in Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps. The entire world had been watching with grave concern the situation in the Middle East, as a result of the continued Israeli aggression and economic strangulation. Such measures had resulted in widespread destruction of Palestinian infrastructures, including those of the refugee camps. Against that background, it was imperative that the international community maintain the quality and scope of services to refugees, until a just settlement of the question had been reached.
The difficult financial situation facing the Agency had prevented it from providing the necessary services, he said. UNRWA was anticipating a deficit in financial resources at a time when the humanitarian situation of the refugees was escalating. The international community's first step must be to improve the Agency's financial resources, so that it could address the increasing humanitarian crisis. That included both voluntary and regular budget contributions. Since the services provided by the Agency were international obligations towards the Palestinian refugees pending a just solution, he appealed to donor countries to maintain their financial support to UNRWA activities in a way that would enable the Agency to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian refugees.
Also, the occupation forces must lift their restrictions on UNRWA personnel and respect agreements in line with international law, he said. Israeli forces had deliberately damaged UNRWA facilities during a period in which the Palestinian refugees had suffered a dramatic deterioration in their economic, social and living conditions. Israel had also arrested and tortured UNRWA personnel. Addressing the needs of the Palestinian refugees would pave the way for the post crisis phase in the Middle East, so that Palestinian society would be qualified to address post-conflict challenges. The world community must work to ensure that UNRWA continued to fulfil its humanitarian mission, without impediments, pending a comprehensive and just question of the Palestinian refugees, including their right to return to their homeland.
DEBRA PRICE (Canada) said that, as the situation in the Middle East continued to deteriorate, each State had a responsibility to pursue actions consistent with the common goal of two States living side by side in peace and security. In that context, Canada had supported initiatives aimed at building confidence between the parties. However, the situation had deteriorated to intolerable levels. Rising poverty and malnutrition levels were disturbing indicators of how serious the situation was. Moreover, the restriction on the Agency’s staff movements had hindered the access of Palestinians to such basic needs as food, water and medical supplies. Those concerns had been raised with the Israeli Government and Canada had called on Israel to comply with its international obligations, in accordance with Fourth Geneva Convention. At the same time, Canada condemned all terrorist attacks against civilians and called on the Palestinians to condemn them, and on their leadership to punish them.
UNRWA had admirably fulfilled its mandate under the trying circumstances of the last two years, she continued. Contending with the closures and restrictions on access had not been easy, particularly when the Agency was faced with defending itself from uncorroborated criticism. As an Agency charged with overseeing education in the refugees camps, UNRWA recognized its opportunity, and responsibility, to help foster a culture of peace. Canada had contributed $10 million to the core budget of the Agency and $2 million to the emergency fund in the past year. Welcoming continued efforts for reform in the Agency’s work, Canada remained cognizant that further challenges remained. As those deliberations were conducted, the basic aim of guiding parties towards peace must be agreed. The issues involved were clear; the parties knew what was required of them. The compromises needed for a lasting settlement remained the same after two years of bloodshed.
AHMED A. AL-HARTHY (Saudi Arabia) said that the deteriorating conditions under the Israeli occupation were unacceptable; they spread horror, poverty and disease throughout all segments of the Palestinian population, in addition to that of the refugees. Thus, the report of the Commissioner-General had represented to the international community the tragedy lived by the Palestinian people. Moreover, the number of refugees continued to increase, and was now 4 million. That was unacceptable. It placed a great burden on the international community, which had guaranteed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, through such instruments as General Assembly resolution 194, in which was emphasized the Palestinian people’s right to return, or compensation in the event that they did not return.
The Agency was prevented from providing services to the Palestinians because of the restrictions implemented by the occupying force, including the closing of roads and crossing points, he continued. Moreover, these decisions did not take into account obligations under international agreements. Yet, despite the dangerous situation, the Agency’s staff had continued to carry out its work and humanitarian duties. For that, the Saudi Arabian Government expressed its thanks.
The Agency, in implementing its programmes, depended on the provision of means by States so that it could transcend its current financial crisis to solve the Palestinian question and the question of the refugees, in accordance with United Nations resolutions, he added. Saudi Arabia had continued to extend its aid for the alleviation of the suffering of the Palestinian people, in addition to its $1.2 million yearly contribution to UNRWA. Finally, he expressed confidence in UNRWA and support for all the humanitarian efforts that had been undertaken in the interest of the Palestinian people.
RENATO R. MARTINO, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said that previous speakers had clearly identified many of the critical issues festering in the region served by UNRWA, including settlements, curfews, closures, assassinations and suicide bombers. They had also discussed the effects on the Palestinian people regarding employment, education and access to medical services. The Holy See understood how the current situation impacted the lives of so many with such adversity. The work of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine relied heavily on its collaborators to provide financial support for its work among the Palestinian people, especially those living in refugee camps. Its annual budget of some $10.72 million had been supported by numerous organizations, including the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Mercy Corps International and Kinderhilfe Bethlehem. Funds were used in such areas as employment, village restoration, education and health.
In his Angelus message of Sunday, 11 August 2002, Pope John Paul II had spoken of the futility of violence as a solution to the fundamental Israeli-Palestinian problem, he said. The international community must assist the Palestinians and the Israelis to realize that the fundamental injustice causing the continuous unending spiral of retaliations must come to an end. The findings of the 2001 Mitchell report clearly identified the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel as the root cause of the sufferings that plagued both Israelis and Palestinians. It was incumbent on both parties, assisted by the international community, to set out anew on the path of sincere negotiations. The massive application of violence had failed miserably and had increased the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Beyond addressing the root issues that have for over two years led to an unending cycle of violence, he said it was his hope that any solution would include the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Holy See renewed its call for internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of its inhabitants to safeguard the special character of the city and of its sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Current levels of violence had caused pilgrims to stay away from the Holy Land, thus imposing severe economic penalties on all the people of the region. Local believers no longer had access to their places of worship on the weekly days of prayer.
YUSSEF F. KANAAN, observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, summarized the Commissioner-General’s findings on the serious and mounting humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories and the challenges faced by UNRWA, given the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupying force, and said that Israel’s actions contravened principles of international law and numerous international agreements. Moreover, not only had the Israeli Government employed harsh measures with regard to the Agency, but there were reports that it had tried to influence some major donor countries to discontinue their financial support for UNRWA.
It was regrettable that the international community, particularly the Security Council, had failed to persuade Israel to remove its restrictions on the movement of Agency staff and goods, to lift the closures and curfews imposed on the Palestinian people and to provide protection to them in the face of continued Israeli aggression. Given the vitally important role of the Agency in providing essential services to the Palestinian refugees, the international community should increase its donations to the budget of the Agency so that it could continue to serve the Palestinian people. UNRWA had a continuing responsibility, until such time as the Palestinian refugee problem was resolved on the basis of the right of return. And, as long as Israel continued its occupation and denied the right of Palestinians to return, the achievement of peace would be increasingly distant.
FAISAL ABDULLA HAMAD AL-ATHBA (Qatar) said that living conditions of the Palestinian refugees had continued to deteriorate and the Palestinian population was the most vulnerable in the region. And yet, he was saddened by continued talk about human rights, the rights of refugees and the need for the international community to ensure them, because that advocacy in defence of human rights evaporated when it came to the question of the Palestinian refugees. It was as if they came from an alien planet. Although many States paid lip service to human rights, some turned a blind eye to Israeli practices that flagrantly violated human rights in broad daylight.
He condemned Israel's violation of international accords and its agreement with and UNRWA. The international community should stand united in demanding Israel's respect for the free movement of the Agency’s staff and goods. He welcomed the Agency’s efforts to address the tragic and difficult living conditions suffered by the Palestinian people, as a result of the continued Israeli occupation. The international community, especially donor States, needed to continue to provide aid to alleviate the consequences of the Israeli siege and to respond generously to UNRWA’s emergency appeals.
A crucial component of the question of the Palestinian refugees was the right to return or compensation, which had been recognized in General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) and all subsequent resolutions. A just and lasting settlement of the Middle East conflict must take into account the provisions of that resolution. Yet, that solution remained elusive, due to the continued Israeli occupation. Thus, it was important for the international community to recognize the continued importance of the Agency’s work and to aid the Agency to overcome its financial crisis. Until a just, sound and lasting peace based on United Nations resolutions was achieved, UNRWA must continue to fulfil its mandate. In conclusion, he paid tribute to the quality and scope of the Agency’s service, despite all odds, and to its dedicated staff in the field, who ensured the delivery of assistance to those most in need.
Rights of Reply
Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Lebanon quoted from the statement of the Israeli delegate, who had said that "hundreds of thousands" of Jews had been forced to flee Arab lands where they had lived for centuries. Through such statements, the Israeli delegate had said that the Arabs had forced Jews to flee the Arab countries. Through such statements, the Israeli delegate was trying to justify the displacement of the Palestinians. He rejected Israel's unfounded claim. The Jews who had left Arab countries had left by choice. In that context, he reminded delegates that Israel had invited Jews to come to Israel -- such was the case with Russia, Belarus and Poland.
Lebanon, he added, contrary to what the Israeli delegate had claimed, recognized many communities and a wide variety of cultures. The Jewish community was officially recognized as a community, and had participated in Lebanon's 2000 parliamentary elections. The problem was not with the Jewish faith. It was with occupation. The problem was with Israel. As for the allegation that the Arab States had kept refugees living in squalor, he said the Israeli representative was suggesting that Arab States must resettle Palestinians in Arab lands. The Arabs recognized the Palestinians as, first and foremost, Palestinians, who must return to their homeland, as called for by all United Nations resolutions since 1948. Lebanon's position was anchored in United Nations resolutions and it did not ask for anything beyond that. Israel had expelled Palestinians from their homeland and then cried "crocodile tears" about Arabs not paying their dues to the Agency.
The representative of Syria, speaking in right of reply, said the Israeli attempt to link Palestinian refugee camps and terrorism was ridiculous. The Israeli representative had tried to distort the facts and project an image of Israel as victim to justify its brutal tactics towards a people trying to exercise its right to self-determination. Terrorism, destruction and killing remained a steady component of Israeli policies. Further, Israel had been misleading when it alleged that Arab States had expelled Jews from their territories. The two populations had lived in harmony for many centuries and they left voluntarily. The Israeli delegate deliberately forgot to mention that it was Jewish campaigns that had brought the Jews out of Arab and other States.
In response to Israel’s statements about Syria’s receipt of the Palestinian refugees, he noted that Syria had received them all with love and care, but had refused to allow them to remain permanently in Syria, because that would have allowed Israeli settlers to take over their homes and properties. Syria had, however, provided assistance for a dignified life, until such time as they returned to their homes, in pursuance of United Nations resolutions. In that regard, Israel’s statement reflected its Government’s most extreme positions; its intransigence reflected the fact that a just and lasting peace had not been obtained because Israel did not recognize those United Nations resolutions. He challenged Israel to end its policies of mischaracterization and distortion and to end its practices in contravention of United Nations resolutions.
The observer for Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said that the work of UNRWA had become increasingly difficult because of the situation on the ground, which had been created by Israel’s actions as the occupying Power. The ultimate responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation that prevailed, thus, lay with Israel. The Palestinian refugees faced hunger because Israel had restricted their access to income. They faced the destruction of their homes and belongings because of Israel’s use of excessive force. Yet, the international community was asked to believe that Israel was sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, that it had cooperated with UNRWA and had done nothing to obstruct the Agency’s work.
The facts on the ground spoke for themselves, she continued. The main problem was posed by Israel's continued violations of international and humanitarian law. Return violence, such as suicide bombings, was totally condemnable -- as had been repeated on numerous occasions -- but it remained a consequence, not the cause, of the occupation. Moreover, with specific reference to the Jenin refugee camp, the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation and to defend themselves when under attack was reaffirmed. It was not logical to expect them to welcome such attacks. Further, Israel’s claims that its actions actually served the purpose of supporting UNRWA were patronizing and offensive. As for Israel’s accusations concerning UNRWA’s conduct, they were unfounded. The Agency had conducted itself in admirable manner.
Moreover, the Middle East conflict remained unresolved because of Israel’s intransigence on the issue of the right of return or compensation, she said. Israel had charged that the Palestinians had rejected reasonable proposals, but how serious could those proposals be when they did not meet even the minimum requirement of acknowledging Israel’s responsibility for the situation? Israel claimed that it had an inherent right under international law to live as a Jewish and democratic State. But, did that right thus allow Israel to trample the Palestinians’ inherent rights? Finally, the return to the negotiating table depended upon the occupying Power, and the rights of the Palestinians under international law must serve as the starting point for any negotiation.
The representative of Israel said that what all speakers had in common was a failure to recognize that Israeli actions did not occur in a vacuum. The Palestinian refugee problem was borne out of violence; in rejection by the Palestinians and the Arab States of General Assembly resolution 181 and of Israel's very right to exist. In seeking to subvert that resolution by force of arms, seven Arab States had invaded Israel in a war that the then Secretary-General had called "the first war of aggression since the adoption of the United Nations Charter". In the process of that aggression, hundreds of thousands had been made refugees. Some were Palestinian refugees and some were Jews, driven from Arab lands where they had resided for centuries.
More than 50 years later, Arab States insisted that others carried the burden of a problem that, both historically and morally, was their responsibility, he said. Unlike Israel, the Arab States had maintained the Palestinian refugees in a state of poverty and dispossession. One delegate had boasted yesterday that his Government treated its refugees “as if” they were citizens. With a notable exception of another Arab country, Palestinian refugees had not been issued passports, could not travel or compete for jobs and education. Why did the Arab States insist on treating the refugees "like" citizens? Why did they contribute only a tiny fraction of UNRWA's budget?
Others had accused Israel of attacking UNRWA personnel, he continued. That was untrue. Israel fully supported UNRWA's mission and had worked closely with the Agency to help facilitate its work. The ones endangering UNRWA personnel were Palestinian terrorists that had situated themselves in refugee camps, using their residents as human shields, using camps as a base of operations in violation of international humanitarian law, and Security Council resolutions. Just yesterday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in an Israeli shopping centre. The perpetrator of the "crime against humanity" was a resident of the Balata refugee camp. He called on the international community to condemn the criminal use of civilian refugee camps by Palestinian terrorists.
Israel agreed that only a peaceful settlement would address the issue, he said. But, politicizing the debate on a humanitarian agenda item would not assist in the process. Israel was eager to return to negotiations. He urged the Palestinian side to cease its futile campaign of terrorism and join at the
negotiating table. So long as terrorism continued, Israel would have no choice but to take steps to protect civilians. Israel supported UNRWA's humanitarian mandate and would continue to cooperate with the Agency to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Terrorism, however, posed a threat to the Agency's humanitarian mission, to Israeli and Palestinian civilians and to the prospects for peace.
The representative of Lebanon agreed fully with the Israeli representative’s statement that the question of the Palestinian refugees did not arise out of nothing. It arose out of the occupation. As for the statement that the Arab States had rejected implementing General Assembly resolution 181, he questioned whether Israel itself had accepted the resolution. If it had, why was it that the Palestinian share of territory allocated in that resolution was 22 per cent, while today the Palestinians did not even control 10 per cent? And why had there been a battle fought between Israel and Lebanon in the village of Malykya, which had originally been part of the land allocated to the Palestinians, if the Arabs had refused to implement it? What was Israel doing in that village, which was a Palestinian village at the time, as determined by the international community?
Turning to Israel’s question about why the Arab countries did not receive the Palestinian refugees in accordance with international norms, he asked why Israel did not allow the refugees to return, in accordance with international norms? As for Israel’s statement that it had not attacked UNRWA staff, he read from the Commissioner-General’s report and highlighted the fact that the Commissioner-General himself had come face-to-face with Israeli weapons.
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