|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
13th Meeting (AM & PM)
delegates demand israel stop destroying infrastructure as second committee
considers sovereignty over natural resources in occupied arab lands
Occupying Power Uses Rhetoric of Peace to Buy Time, Says Observer for Palestine
Israel must immediately stop destroying infrastructure in occupied Arab lands and the building of its annexation wall in the West Bank, actions that had caused massive environmental damage, water deprivation and socio-economic degradation of the Palestinians and Syrians living in those territories, several speakers told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon.
As the Committee took up its agenda item on the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources, the Observer for Palestine said Israel had used the rhetoric of peace to buy time, while continuing illegally to confiscate Palestinian land and resources, and destroying many pillars of a future Palestinian State.
He said Israel’s illegal exploitation and degradation of the natural resources in occupied lands had caused drought and desertification, leaving Palestinians with less water sources than had been available prior to the Israel occupation in 1967. Israel was waging a war against local agriculture, the main source of income for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. According to a recent report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Israel had driven the Palestinian agriculture sector to near-collapse after banning all agricultural exports. Its restrictions on sea access had pushed the Gaza fishing catch to near extinction, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Israel had destroyed Palestinian water networks, allocating only one eighth of the West Bank’s freshwater to the Palestinian population, he said. That had forced more than a million Palestinians to spend more than 12 per cent of their household income on water. Some 70 per cent of Gaza families received water once every five days and much of their untreated sewage was pumped into the sea. Moreover, the 16-fold increase in Israeli settlement units since the Annapolis Conference last year was in grave violation of international law. It was the moral duty of the United Nations to pursue the protection of Palestinian rights and not to tire until Israel stopped exploiting Palestinian resources and compensated them for their losses and degradation.
Israel’s representative, disagreeing with those statements, said the report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the subject ignored the fact that, under agreements reached between the two sides, the Palestinian Authority already exercised jurisdiction over many natural resources, while interim cooperation and arrangements were in place for others. Cooperation was critical since natural resources cut across borders and affected all people in the region.
He pointed out that no references had been made during the debate to Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli citizens and the vicious incitement that took place in Hamas-run schools. Since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip those actions had intensified alongside the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza and attacks by terrorists on border crossing points. Israel’s security measures were a necessary response, which would not be needed if there were no terrorism.
The Committee was once again considering an item that reflected a one-sided political agenda and which did not advance either peace or the sharing of resources, he said. It should turn its attention to urgent global issues rather than single out one country for discriminatory treatment. The economic and social situation of all parties would improve once Israelis and Palestinians negotiated a fair, just and lasting final status agreement through bilateral dialogue among those committed to coexistence.
Lebanon’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the ability of the Palestinians to achieve the Millennium Development Goals had been pushed “off-track” by Israel’s occupation and its construction of illegal settlements and the separation wall, which had led to continued abject poverty, hunger and high unemployment. Israeli occupation forces had demolished more than 2,200 homes in the West Bank and Gaza in the past decade, leaving more than 13,000 Palestinians homeless, while illegally confiscating more than 38 per cent of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and constructing 400 Israeli residential units in the West Bank in December 2007. That had been followed by a 45 per cent increase in expansion in the nine-month period directly thereafter. In the Syrian Golan, Israel had built another 45 settlements.
Noting the “incapacity” of the international community to end the occupation, he urged Member States to force Israel to respect its international commitments under international law, international humanitarian law, and relevant United Nation resolutions; pay compensation for damages, and recognize the right of sovereignty over natural resources.
Syria’s representative said the reality showed that, despite all the resolutions adopted on the subject, the sufferings of people living under Israeli occupation since 1967 were still increasing. Israel continued to adopt policies and impose practices on Syrians in the occupied Golan. It was depriving them of their livelihoods and of rights stipulated by international law. It was depleting the Golan’s natural resources while preventing Syrian inhabitants from exploiting them. Israel was also dumping nuclear waste, destroying Syrian agricultural land and uprooting fruit trees in order to confiscate land and build military sites. Furthermore, it was imposing very high taxes on Syrian produce while its landmines threatened Syrian villagers.
Israeli army commanders were committing crimes against humanity, and should be held accountable and tried immediately, he said. When the Second Committee asked the Assembly to adopt resolutions taking into account the populations living under occupation, it conveyed a very clear message to the people and future generations that the policy of occupying other peoples’ lands by force infringed on their human nature and international law. The Assembly’s inability to impose its resolutions because of an imbalance of political powers did not make those resolutions any less important, he stressed.
Amr Nour, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Regional Commissions New York Office, introduced the ESCWA report (document A/63/74-E/2008/13) on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.
Other speakers this afternoon were representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Malaysia, Jordan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nicaragua, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Libya and Qatar.
The Observer for Palestine made a statement in exercise of the right of reply.
In the morning, the Committee held a panel discussion on the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017), during which several speakers noted that poverty was one of the world’s greatest challenges. The current financial, energy and food crises had reversed many of the recent gains to fight global poverty and malnutrition, adding millions more to the ranks of poor, hungry people, particularly in developing countries.
Jane Stewart, Special Representative and Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office at the United Nations, noted that 2.6 billion people –- 40 per cent of the world’s population -– still lived on less than $2 a day, the same number as in 1981. Speakers also stressed that social protection and decent work were integral to poverty reduction and development.
Committee Chair Uche Joy Ogwu ( Nigeria) made introductory remarks during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. The panellists were Arnold Kuijpers, Managing Director of Rabobank Financial Institutions Development BV; Gawain Kripke, Senior Policy Adviser of Oxfam America in Washington, D.C.; and Augustine Philip Mahiga, Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations.
Participating in the discussion included the representatives of Morocco, Comoros and Malaysia.
The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 October, to consider the eradication of poverty.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to take up the question of permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestine territory and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources. In the morning, it held a panel discussion on the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017).
Before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/63/74-E/2008/13), which states that the occupations continue to intensify the economic and social hardship of the Palestinian and Syrian peoples.
According to the report, attacks by Palestinian militants and the launching of rockets into Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip continue, as do Israeli military operations, together with arbitrary detentions, the disproportionate use of force, house demolitions, severe mobility restrictions and closure policies in the occupied Palestinian territory. However, there was a decline in Palestinian-Israeli violence in 2007 and an increase in intra-Palestinian violence, culminating in the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June of that year.
The report states that while the number of casualties from Israeli-Palestinian violence decreased by almost half compared with 2006-2007, a combination of intensified closures and sanctions imposed by Israel and increased Palestinian internal conflict led to the measurable deepening of the socio-economic crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory during 2007. All economic, social and public health indicators reveal that standards in living conditions are declining and there is social and spatial dismemberment, growing despair and increased violence against fellow Palestinians.
Also before the Committee was a letter dated 8 July 2008 from the Charg é d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Italy addressed to the Secretary-General, which transmits, on behalf of the Italian Presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the texts of four resolutions adopted by the 188th Assembly of the IPU, held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 18 April 2008. (For details see Press Release GA/EF/3218 of 16 October.)
Committee Chair UCHE JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) said in introductory remarks that poverty eradication was one of the greatest challenges of the current times, and it could only be done by working together. The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals had heightened global awareness, helping to mobilize a concerted effort not only to reduce poverty and hunger, but also to confront closely related issues captured in the other Millennium targets, as well as calls for more ambitious development cooperation. Today, delegates had an opportunity to hear practical solutions to the continuing and intensifying challenges, particularly the impact of the current unfavourable global economic environment on poverty alleviation efforts.
SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and moderator of the panel discussion, said tackling poverty had become even more imperative as the global financial crisis jeopardized economic growth and the development gains made thus far. Increasing unemployment, the high food and energy costs, failing social protection systems, and reduced access to credit and financial services were more palpable than ever. States faced the prospect of a global economic downturn, with implications of particular concern for developing countries. In Africa, growth could fall below the rate of population increase, the economies of Latin America could come to a standstill and even the fast-growing Asian countries could suffer serious blows. All that would come on top of the high prices of food and energy that the people of those countries, especially the poorest among them, had suffered recently.
Even if coordinated bailout packages helped restore market confidence, it would take time for economic activity to resume, he said. If, on the other hand, the situation continued to deteriorate, progress towards the Millennium Development Goals could be at great risk. Environmental deterioration -– from climate change to loss of biodiversity, deforestation and scarcity of water resources -– posed additional challenges, which fell hardest on those most in need. With the Second Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, States had an opportunity to build on current poverty reduction strategies and to strengthen an integrated socio-economic policy framework for development focused on rooting out the causes of poverty.
To make the Second Decade an effective catalyst in reducing poverty globally, Member States must identify priority areas for action, he said. The panel discussion would focus in particular on three areas critical to poverty eradication: productive employment and decent work; social protection; and the development of inclusive financial institutions. Successful experiences showed that productive employment and decent work were critical pathways to long-term poverty reduction, especially for women. Yet, there had not been adequate growth in employment, despite rapid economic growth in past years. Social protection was also integral to poverty reduction, in order to alleviate the situation of the poor and to help the near-poor avoid falling into poverty when faced with loss of income, health and other emergencies. Reducing poverty also required sustained economic growth, which was facilitated by a well-functioning financial system.
JANE STEWART, Special Representative and Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office at the United Nations, said that at the close of the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, there had been some reduction in poverty levels in some parts of the world, most notably China. However, 2.6 billion people –- 40 per cent of the world’s population -– still lived on less than $2 a day, the same number as in 1981. The ILO 2008 World of Work report showed that, despite strong economic growth that had produced millions of new jobs since the early 1990s, the income gap between rich and poor households had widened significantly. Additionally, in 51 of 73 countries for which data was available, the share of wages in total income had declined over the past two decades. The report further concluded that the ongoing global economic slowdown was having a disproportionate effect on low-income groups.
She said the promotion of employment by creating sustainable institutional and economic environment, as described in the ILO Decent Work Agenda, was essential to achieving decent living standards, social and economic integration, personal fulfilment and social development. Enterprises must ensure that their core business activities continued to add value and were carried out efficiently and effectively. In addition, the development and enhancement of social protection measures, adapted to national circumstances, were both an economic necessity and fiscally affordable. It could be shown that those countries that had been most successful in achieving long-term sustainable growth and poverty reduction had all put in place extensive social security systems at an early stage. Economies could not develop and grow without a productive workforce, which would unlock a country’s full growth potential.
The promotion of social dialogue and “tripartitism” were the most appropriate methods for translating economic development into social progress, she continued. Successful social dialogue structures and processes had the potential to resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social and industrial peace and stability, and boost economic progress. It was essential to respect, promote and realize fundamental rights at work in order to ensure economic growth, investment and development. A market governed by a fair set of rules and institutions was more efficient and brought benefits to everyone.
AUGUSTINE PHILIP MAHIGA (United Republic of Tanzania) said the Secretary-General’s report on the Second United Nations Decade gave recommendations that would enable the international community to focus its goals on eradicating poverty. In September 2004, at the African Union Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty Reduction, held in Ouagadougou, the United Republic of Tanzania and other countries had committed to promoting decent work and the ILO development agenda by implementing international labour standards; creating greater opportunities for women; enhancing the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all; and strengthening participation in social dialogue. They had requested that ILO continue to collaborate closely with partner agencies in integrating the decent work approach into policies and programmes.
He recalled that the recent High-Level Meeting on Africa’s Development Needs had adopted a political declaration reaffirming past and present commitments to address Africa’s needs and highlighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa as one of the greatest global challenges. There was a need for renewed vigour, political will and commitment to address that challenge, which required the generation of employment and decent work through domestic and international policies. The Toolkit for Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work aimed to facilitate linkages in that regard. The United Republic of Tanzania was a participant in the “One UN” approach to decent work and labour and was focusing on enterprise development. The country was integrating the Decent Work Agenda and would also incorporate the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization into national strategies.
ARNOLD KUIJPERS, Managing Director of Rabo Financial Institutions Development BV, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rabobank in the Netherlands, whose main objective is to acquire, manage and develop leading rural banks in developing countries, presented an agricultural finance perspective on the eradication of poverty, saying Rabobank was a cooperative institution that neither had shareholders nor aimed to maximize profits. Founded 100 years ago by small farmers, it provided equity participation and financial services to rural areas in selected developing countries. Rabobank was different because it provided foreign support but not foreign control, leaving local banks local.
Noting that world demand for food would grow substantially because of increasing population, rising incomes, and changing consumer preferences, he said world food markets required good quality and low-cost supply, which posed challenges to almost all developing countries. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, production suffered from low productivity per unit, infrastructure was lacking and most farmers were not professional, but were farmers by default. To eradicate poverty, agriculture required better quality and higher productivity, which necessitated agro-technology, technical assistance and finance, in addition to better infrastructure, which meant investment and capacity-building. In the European Union, farmers’ cooperatives accounted for 60 per cent of processing and marketing, and 50 per cent of input supply, including banking.
Regarding the current financial crisis, he said there was a lack of capital, liquidity and trust in banks. Most local banks in developing countries were hardly affected directly by the current crisis, but international banks had cut banking lines, thereby limiting the financing capacity of local banks to some degree. A short-term consequence of the crisis was that central banks had to facilitate farming and increase the money supply or they might damage the livelihood of farmers. A long-term consequence was that there would be increased costs for banks, including regulatory, supervision and funding costs, as well as more awareness to charge risks commensurately, which would increase borrowing costs. International banks might be less willing to take risks in developing countries, so development banks should fill the gaps. It was essential that developing countries be supported in establishing appropriate agro-infrastructure, including transport, markets and institutions. It was also necessary to convince Governments to privatize their land, and to encourage international companies to invest in developing countries.
GAWAIN KRIPKE, Senior Policy Adviser, Oxfam America, Washington, D.C., said eliminating poverty was not a fad, but a cause that ranked among the greatest objectives of humanity, such as banning slavery and enfranchising women. While the absolute number of poor and hungry people had declined steadily over several decades, many failures and challenges still existed. The extent of global inequality was breathtaking. The income of the world’s 500 richest billionaires exceeded that of its poorest 416 million people.
Stressing that the issue was not scarcity, he pointed out that the global economy churned out $9,543 worth of goods and services per capita annually –- 25 times the $365 annual per capita income that defined the extreme poverty in which a billion people lived. The current global food and fuel crises and balance-of-payment problems were seriously reversing the progress made in reducing hunger and poverty over the past several years. An estimated 100 million more people were living in poverty and 75 million to 130 million more were hungry. The World Food Programme (WFP) faced a terrible funding gap and logistical obstacles, its budget having doubled to an estimated $6 billion this year. Such massive challenges underscored globalization’s risks.
Although the United Nations leadership was strong, the question remained whether global institutions could handle those challenges, he said, underscoring the need to integrate food security, energy policy and environmental policy for climate change -- all of which were central to reducing poverty. A Bretton Woods conference and the involvement of States exclusively were not enough; civil society and the private sector should also be involved in the process. The poor were not mere recipients of charity. The best development practises started from the ideas, lives and assets of the poor, who should not be treated as a problem to be solved. Poor people needed power over their own destinies and the factors influencing them, such as politics, the justice system and markets for land, labour and goods and services. Accountable Governments should provide the poor with opportunities through decent education, health care, water and sanitation. They must break the cycle of inequality by refining inheritance, property taxes and land tenure, and by creating jobs and affirmative action.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Morocco requested information about measures to support the national policies to integrate informal sectors into the formal economies of ILO member States.
Ms. STEWART said the four elements of the ILO Decent Work Agenda were mutually supportive and could not be pulled apart. While it was known that the poor did not have the luxury of not working, the issue was not that they were not working, but that they were not working productively. Education was needed to provide knowledge to the poor when they worked. There was no poverty of effort, but there was a poverty of knowledge, voice, social support, recognition and assistance.
The representative of the Comoros asked what the panellists thought of the definition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of poverty as a violation of human dignity.
Mr. KUIJPERS said it was a valued definition, adding that he always tried to take an economic perspective on the issue and see how an industry or country could be developed in a way that ensured that poverty would be eradicated and income increased. In that way, dignity would increase automatically.
Mr. KRIPKE said he certainly agreed that poverty was in large part a denial of rights, but the difficulty was the lack of structure for the claiming of those rights internationally. While claims were often made to uphold rights, there were very few forums to provide the structure.
Ms. STEWART emphasized that work gave people dignity as individuals, adding that there was a sense of absolute disconnection from society when people had no economic relationship with their neighbours and communities. Development was not only about a trickle-down effect, it also had to be consciously planned.
Responding to a question from the representative of Malaysia, about what could be done to promote technology as one of the key elements in combating poverty, Mr. KUIJPERS said it was very important that the world community agree on certain standards, particularly with respect to environmental issues. There should be a common understanding about how to address the issue, but also a level playing field. Preferably, every country should stick to the same standards otherwise there would be competition over the cost of neglecting the environment, which would not benefit anyone. It was also essential to educate and train people so they could contribute to solving various issues.
Mr. KRIPKE said technology played a very important role in poverty reduction and would play an even larger role in the future. That was particularly true in the area of climate change, where it had become clear that the technologies of the past were not applicable to the future. It was necessary to provide improved access to basic services, such as health care, water and electricity, but it was also necessary to think of new technologies.
Emphasizing the “very strong need for technology” he said the relevant questions were: where and who would develop it? Who would own it, and would it be accessible? Those were big questions, and there were really no answers. Institutional responses were needed to help guide technology so there would be more inclusiveness and developing countries would not suffer.
Mr. MAHIGA underscored the importance of discussing poverty at the international level, including at the United Nations, because there were pockets of poverty and pools of poverty around the world. The United Nations was the place where awareness and understanding of the conditions of poverty could be generated. The Organization also showed how all States could work together to address poverty, so there was no better place to address the issue.
He said that while poverty was an indignity, he did not subscribe to the theory that, given the existence of both prosperity and poverty, the world should be working on mechanisms to transfer prosperity from one place to another. The starting point should be identifying where poverty was and really understanding what it took to combat it. Leadership was the “number one thing” needed and it entailed devising policies to address the issue, examining society and determining how to uplift people. Governments could then begin to look outside.
Ms. STEWART called for labour-intensive employment focused on infrastructure, adding that it was also necessary to provide training to the work force. The links between labour and technology made clear the importance of putting employment and decent work at the heart of macroeconomic policy. If countries were actually going to deal with poverty and the dignity of work, then the elements of the ILO Decent Work Agenda allowed them to do so. The sooner they made those elements a conscious part of their development infrastructure, the faster States would get through the Second Decade for the Eradication of Poverty productively.
The representative of Pakistan said growing inflation and the food, energy and financial crises had worsened the plight of the poor. The international community had failed to respond effectively. There were great income inequalities in South Asia, where families could easily fall into poverty due to the illness of the breadwinner or a bad harvest season. It was imperative to address their needs.
The representative of Iran said political will was needed to resolve poverty and much more must be done to make the Second United Nations Decade a success.
In the afternoon, the Committee began its general discussion of the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources.
Introduction of Reports
AMR NOUR, Officer-in-Charge, Regional Commissions New York Office, introduced the report prepared by the Economic and Social Council for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/63/74-E/2008/13).
He said the occupation continued to deepen the economic and social hardships of Palestinians, noting that the Israeli mobility restrictions and closure policies remained the primary causes of the poverty and humanitarian crisis in the territory. They restricted Palestinian access to health and education services, employment, markets, and social and religious networks. In addition, the Israeli authorities had demolished more than 2,200 residences over the past 10 years, leaving more than 13,000 Palestinians homeless.
Social and economic indicators continued to show negative trends in the occupied Palestinian territory, he continued. In 2007, per capita gross domestic product was estimated to have declined by 5 per cent compared with 2006, and by almost 40 per cent compared with 1999. Dependency on humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip now stood at more than 80 per cent and consequently, a growing number of Palestinians, particularly children, suffered from malnutrition and other health problems.
The report concludes by citing a message delivered by the Secretary-General to the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People in February 2008. In it, he said that only a permanent political settlement ending the occupation and giving Palestinians their independence could fundamentally alter the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people. The key ingredients for a breakthrough existed and, with the right mixture of wisdom, realism and political courage, historic progress could be made towards achieving the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
The Observer for Palestine pointed out that certain parts of the report referred to “attacks” by Palestinians and “Israeli operations”, giving the impression that the latter were a result of Palestinian attacks, which was untrue. Similarly, the report referred to an “internal conflict” and its repercussions on social and economic situations. That also gave the wrong impression that the difficult internal conditions resulting from the economic and social situations were the main reason for events in the occupied Palestinian territory. The report also lacked visual evidence showing the seriousness of the situation in Palestine. It lacked tables and data that could help shed more light on the situation so that people would understand the repercussions of Israeli measures.
The representative of Syria asked where the information contained in the report had been obtained and whether the experts from ESCWA had visited the occupied territories to see the reality on their own. After all, the occupation had been in place for more than four decades.
Mr. NOUR said he would convey members’ comments to ESCWA. As for the coordination of the report, it had been produced after very long consultations between the Commission and other organizations working on the ground, though ESCWA experts did have opportunities from time to time to visit the occupied territories. The report contained about 34 footnotes.
HASSAN SALEH (Lebanon), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the people in the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan had suffered for more than four decades under Israeli occupation, which flagrantly violated international conventions and customs, and deliberately disregarded hundreds of United Nations resolutions in defiance of the international community. Israel was responsible for a suffocating economic siege which had led to severe shortages of everyday basics such as food, water, petrol and electricity, as well as restrictions on humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements expanded, the environment was endangered and nuclear waste had been dumped close to the Syrian Golan.
Citing the ESCWA report, he noted that Israeli occupation forces had demolished more than 2,200 residential units in the West Bank and Gaza in the past decade, leaving more than 13,000 Palestinians homeless, while illegally confiscating more than 38 per cent of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and constructing 400 Israeli residential units in the West Bank in December 2007, followed by a 45 per cent increase in expansion in the nine-month period directly thereafter. In the Syrian Golan, an additional 45 Israeli settlements had been built, in contravention of Security Council resolution 497 (1981) and General Assembly resolution 27/61 of December 2006, which stated that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void.
In addition, the continued construction of a separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, started by the Israeli Government in 2002, was “in clear contravention” of resolution ES-10/15, he said, adding that the construction had been responsible for the displacement of more than 11,000 Palestinians in 2004. The wall would annex 10.2 per cent of West Bank land, including East Jerusalem, to Israel, leading to separation from more than 50,000 Palestinians in the rest of the area that would need residency permits, and encompassing Palestinian natural resources such as water and encircling highly fertile Palestinian farmlands, while exploiting water resources and denying Palestinian sovereignty over those resources. The measures had led to severe economic and social consequences that had affected the entire Palestinian people, preventing them from achieving sustainable development for job opportunities and reducing unemployment. The Palestinian realization of the Millennium Development Goals had been pushed “off-track” by the occupation, construction of illegal settlements and the separation wall, leading to continued abject poverty, hunger and high unemployment.
Noting the “incapacity” of the international community to end the occupation, he urged Member States to force Israel to respect its international commitments under international law, international humanitarian law, and the relevant United Nation resolutions; pay compensation for damages, and recognize the right of sovereignty over natural resources. The responsibility to highlight the negative economic, social and environmental impacts of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian and Syrian peoples remained with the General Assembly, especially the 2nd Committee.
AMMAR HIJAZI, Observer for Palestine, said 2008 marked the sixtieth anniversary of catastrophe for the Palestinian people, when hundreds of thousands of them had been forcibly exiled from their homes and lands. Israel’s illegal exploitation and degradation of the natural resources in occupied territory had contributed directly to drought and desertification in Palestine. Scarce water resources had been severely undermined, particularly by the illegal construction of Israel’s annexation wall, which would annex approximately 46 per cent of the West Bank’s most valuable water resources, including the rich western aquifer. Israel used 73 per cent of the West Bank’s available water. In the Jordan Valley alone, 41 illegal Israeli settlements consumed the equivalent of 75 per cent of the water used by the West Bank’s entire Palestinian population.
However, Israel allocated only one eighth of the West Bank’s freshwater to the Palestinian population, and more than one million Palestinians had to buy water, he said. Due to the destruction of their water networks, Palestinians spent more than 12 per cent of their household income on water. The ESCWA report noted that the current daily average water consumption among Palestinian households, which was significantly lower than the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), had dropped further in the West Bank and Gaza. Seventy per cent of Gaza families received water once every five days and much of their untreated sewage was pumped into the sea. Israel denied Palestinians the right to implement water and environmental projects, including repair work, leaving them with less water sources than had been available before the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.
The estimated 200 factories in illegal Israeli settlements produced toxins that devastated land and underground water, he continued, noting that UNRWA clinics reported a 20 per cent increase in diarrhoea cases among children under the age of three years. Israel was waging a war against Palestinian agriculture, the main source of income for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. It had exploited 40 per cent of the most fertile land in the West Bank and confiscated 15 per cent more. The recent report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories stated that Israel had driven the Palestinian agriculture sector to near-collapse after banning all agricultural exports, fertilizers and pesticides. Sea access was also restricted and, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Gaza fishing catch had shrunk 98 per cent in 2008. It faced possible extinction if current restrictions continued.
Noting that the Observer Mission of Palestine reported a sharp increase in Palestinian losses and suffering to the Committee every year, he said they included the 16-fold increase in Israeli settlement housing units since the Annapolis Conference last year, built in grave violation of international law. Israel had used the rhetoric of peace to buy time, while continuing illegally to confiscate Palestinian land and resources and destroy many pillars of a future Palestinian State. It was the moral duty of the United Nations to pursue the protection of Palestinian rights and to not tire until Israel stopped exploiting Palestinian resources and compensated them for their losses and degradation.
ALI RASHED AHMED ALMAZROUEI ( United Arab Emirates) said recent international reports, including the Secretary-General’s report, mentioned that the Palestinian people were suffering humanitarian, social and economic crises because of the Israeli occupation and war crimes committed by Israel. The Israeli army persisted in occupying the Palestinian territories, destroying homes and infrastructure. The Israeli authorities had separated the Palestinian territories, imposed blockades on Palestinian cities and checkpoints on roads, constraining the movement of goods and people. The world was also witnessing the suffering of Palestinian children, half of whom were suffering from malnutrition and lacked access to basic education.
He said his country was concerned about Israel’s expansionist policy by which it confiscated Palestinian natural resources. Israel was also destroying the land and agricultural goods, imposing closure policies and embargoes, and polluting Palestinian water resources, all in blatant violation of international law and resolutions. Israel was also confiscating lands and building illegitimate settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan, where it had adopted oppressive and discriminatory policies against Arab citizens. The United Arab Emirates gave its total support to the Palestinian people and Government, and called upon the international community -– especially the Security Council and the Quartet -- to adopt all measures for Israel to end its aggression and retreat from the occupied territories. Donor countries should increase their humanitarian and economic assistance to Palestine in order to meet the basic needs of its people.
AMAR DAOUD ( Sudan) said Israel was not only imposing constraints on the flow of Palestinian goods and citizens, it had also disrupted the work of humanitarian agencies assisting the Palestinians. Israel’s closures had led to extreme poverty among Palestinians due to their lack of access to social, health and economic networks. Military operations in the West Bank and Gaza were still targeting, killing, maiming and arresting civilians while confiscating their property. The annexation wall was illegal according to the International Court of Justice, which had called on all countries to deem the wall illegitimate. The wall impacted negatively on the socio-economic life of most Palestinians, while illegal settlements had displaced 13,000 residents. Meanwhile, the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem was continuing.
Palestinian’s natural resources, including 91 per cent of the West Bank’s water resources, were being exploited by the Israelis, in violation of 1949 Geneva Convention, he continued. Those violations had led to food and energy scarcity while the embargo and restrictions against Palestinians at checkpoints had resulted in a lack of health care services. Israel’s confiscation of Syrian land and natural resources, coupled with its dumping of toxic resources, had negatively impacted Syrians living in the occupied Syrian Golan. The international community must honour its responsibilities to end the hardship suffered by Palestinians and Syrians. Sudan called on the Secretary-General to provide further assistance to the Palestinian people. A permanent political settlement, including independence for the Palestinians, was necessary. Sudan called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and compensate the Palestinians and Syrians for damages.
SYED ALI AL-HABSHEE ( Malaysia), calling the report “grim reading”, said he was greatly concerned about the demolition of 83 inhabited residential structures in 2007, which had displaced more than 611 Palestinians, including 235 children. In addition, water supply in the occupied Palestinian territory was far below minimum standards. Individual acts of wanton cruelty continued unabated, while mobility restrictions and closure policies imposed by Israel’s armed forces impeded normal Palestinian economic activities and those in the occupied Syrian Golan.
Israel had violated the Fourth Geneva Convention, among other instruments, he said, urging that country to respect all relevant resolutions, including those pertaining to international human rights and humanitarian law. The proportion of people depending on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for basic food had risen from 63 per cent in 2006 to 80 per cent in 2007. More aid was needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, as some 302,000 people were short of food.
At the same time, he said, people in the occupied territories had not been able to benefit from increased food prices from the export of olive oil due to the restrictions imposed by the occupation authorities. Malaysia called on Israel to respect the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. International efforts were not sufficient, and strong commitment by all parties would be needed, first to provide a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to recognize the population’s right to their natural resources and lift all movement restrictions, and to provide more assistance for development programmes.
KHALID SHAWABKAH ( Jordan) said the construction of Israeli settlements had led to devastating consequences for the Palestinians, particularly regarding their right to good living conditions, health care, education and employment. Many groups of Palestinians lacked food security and it was well known that Israeli settlements were among the major pollutants of the environment. In fact, many studies had shown that most of the settlements threw away waste without treating it, and that it entered the ground water in the Palestinian territories, leading to the pollution of many water sources. In addition, the problem of road detours had negative repercussions on the quality of agricultural land, and had led to many problems, such as deforestation and landslides.
The separation wall covered large swathes of Palestinian territory, in particular the so-called “green line”, he said. The wall had caused much economic, humanitarian and agricultural damage. More than 2,438 buildings had been constructed beyond the wall, and 1,248 families had suffered loss of income and jobs. The wall had also led to the destruction of the olive oil industry. Furthermore, each year the Palestinians found themselves losing tons of fruits, hundreds of thousands of tons of vegetables, and thousands of cattle, among other things. Studies conducted by the United Nations showed that the Palestinians living within the zone of the separation wall faced economic difficulties as a result of movement restrictions and policies. They were also deprived of access to their agricultural and pastoral lands, and redressing the damage done would take years.
DEWI SAVITRI WAHAB ( Indonesia) said the Palestinian people were among those who were hindered in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Although 2008 was supposed to be the year of political transition for them, as mandated by the Annapolis Conference, change was yet to come. Overall, obstacles to much-needed resources and the severe economic depression in the occupied territories remained the reality. Turmoil in the West Bank and Gaza had been unceasing while strict closures, never-ending curfews and economic restrictions, had put everything necessary for development at risk. The Palestinians could not even take basic social services for granted.
One of the main challenges affecting the Palestinian people was Israeli settlement activities, which required urgent remedy, she said. The illegal settlements constituted a blatant violation of international law and created severe economic hardships. In effect, they dispossessed Palestinians of their lands and the resources on them. The humanitarian situation also demanded urgent attention, and the international community must respond to that crisis.
There must be an end to the occupation, and the Palestinian people must be granted independence, she said, stressing that statehood was the solution to many of the problems affecting the Palestinians. However, a viable Palestinian State would not be built in a day; it would require continued preparation, planning and funding. A Palestinian State with full control over its natural resources and a viable economy in operation would emerge, and Indonesia eagerly anticipated that day.
TARIQ ALFAYEZ (Saudi Arabia), noting that everyone was supposed to cooperate under the auspices of the United Nations to resolve conflicts peacefully, said the situation in the Middle East revealed a dangerous state of affairs. The Israeli occupation, coupled with its suffocating economic embargo and continuing settlement construction, was the root cause of Palestinian suffering. An Arab-Israeli peace must be established to end the conflict. The suffering of the Palestinians would increase unless the situation was redressed, and Palestine, known for its rich history and culture, would continue to see its resources and energy depleted. History showed that continued commitment to a just and permanent peace would lead to a resolution of the situation in the region.
In the current peace talks, both sides should endeavour to come up with comprehensive solutions, he said, noting that the occupation forces lacked credibility owing to their practices. All previous efforts had concentrated on partial or unilateral solutions, which had failed to end the suffering. They lacked specific steps and timetables and the results were limited. In light of the absence of impartial monitors, Israel had not abided by international agreements. New provisions were needed in order to establish peace.
He said his country was committed to ending the conflict and establishing agreements and conventions based on the principle of withdrawing Israeli forces from all territories it had occupied since 1967. Saudi Arabia stood hand in hand with its Arab colleagues. The Arabs were committed to peace. International forces must now change their approach towards the conflict. Israel must stop its daily inhumane treatment of the Palestinians and end the construction of its settlements and separation wall.
BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said the ESCWA report highlighted some of the social and economic sufferings of Palestinians and Syrians living under Israeli rule. Israeli commanders were committing crimes against humanity; they should be held accountable and tried immediately. The Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan, which had persisted since 1967, and the suffering of Syrians living under Israeli occupation were still continuing. Israel also persisted in adopting policies and imposing practices on the Syrians in the occupied Golan, depriving them of their livelihoods and the rights stipulated by international laws.
As an occupying authority, Israel persisted in creating settlements in defiance of international law, he said, adding that Israeli landmines threatened Syrian villagers in the occupied Golan. Israel was also depleting the region’s natural resources and depriving its Syrian inhabitants of any possibility to use them. In addition, Israel was dumping nuclear waste, destroying agricultural land and uprooting fruit trees belonging to Syrian farmers in order to confiscate their lands and build military sites on them. It was also imposing high taxes on the goods of Syrian farmers, leaving them incapable of marketing their produce in an adequate manner.
He said that when the Second Committee recommended that the General Assembly adopt resolutions, taking into account the populations living under occupation, it conveyed a very clear message to the people and future generations by saying that the policy of occupying other peoples’ lands by force infringed on their human nature and international law. The General Assembly’s inability to impose its resolutions due to an imbalance in political power did not render those resolutions any less important.
AWSAN AL-AUD ( Yemen) said Israel was continuing its policies of aggression toward the Palestinian people, destroying houses and confiscating land. Agriculture was a major source of income for the Palestinians and the backbone of the Palestinian economy, but Israel had uprooted their trees, which had resulted in losses amounting to $339 million from September 2000 to April 2006. The ESCWA report stated that Israel had confiscated more than 3,400 hectares to build its annexation wall and Israeli settlements. It had destroyed more than 3,000 hectares in the West Bank and uprooted thousands of fertile trees, directly harming 6,000 Palestinian farmers. As a result, the number of Palestinians living in poverty had increased, impeding their ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In the occupied Syrian Golan, Syrian farmers were only getting 25 per cent of the water they needed, he noted. Israel was imposing high taxes on the Syrian farmers in Golan, sometimes as high as 50 per cent of the value of their crops. That impeded their ability to market agricultural products and their livelihood in general. The policy of systematic aggression practised by the Israeli occupation against Syrians constituted blatant violations of international humanitarian law and covenants. The targeting of the Palestinian agricultural sector was aimed at destroying it. Yemen called on the international community to make Israel respect United Nations resolutions and international law, lift the blockade imposed on Gaza, stop uprooting trees and end its exploitation of natural resources in the occupied lands.
ELI BEN TURA ( Israel) said the Committee was once again considering an item that reflected a one-sided political agenda and which advanced neither peace nor the sharing of resources, which had always been negotiated bilaterally between parties to a conflict. The item was solely a political instrument to disparage and ostracize the State of Israel. Not once in the debate had there been references to Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli citizens and the vicious incitement that took place in Hamas-run schools. Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, those actions had intensified, as had violent attacks by terrorists at border crossing points. Israel’s security measures were a necessary response that would not be needed if there were no terrorism.
He said the report ignored the fact that under agreements reached between the two sides, the Palestinian Authority already exercised jurisdiction over many natural resources, while interim cooperation and arrangements were in place for others. Cooperation was critical since natural resources cut across borders and affected all people in the region. The Committee should turn its attention to urgent global issues rather than single out one country for discriminatory treatment. The economic and social situation of all parties would improve once Israelis and Palestinians negotiated a fair, just and lasting final status agreement through bilateral dialogue among those committed to coexistence.
CLAUDIA LOZA ( Nicaragua) said there was no point in talking about sustainable development and economic growth when people lacked control over their own land, water, and other natural resources. The Palestinian people could not provide its citizens with the most basic of conditions and, worse still, the invading Israeli State denied them the basic rights to health and education. As a result of the denial of the right to free movement, the practice of confining citizens to concentration camps and the daily destruction of their infrastructure, the Palestinian people could not devote themselves fully to economic development if their first concern was to protect themselves against bombardments by the Israeli army.
She said that the Nicaraguan people, who had suffered foreign occupation first-hand in different periods of their history, reaffirmed the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle and their resistance to Israeli occupation, until they managed to achieve their own homeland with clearly defined borders. If States aspired to sustainable economic development, the first task should be to ensure compliance with resolutions, to condemn the violations of international law and violations of United Nations resolutions on the part of Israel. That would permit the Palestinians to return to the territory that was historically theirs. States should also continue to debate the issue until the Palestinians obtained their territory.
MOHAMMED ASMOON ( Oman) rejected illegal practices against the Palestinian people, their natural resources and their land, saying Israel had continued to build the separation law in violation of the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in July 2004. The annexation wall deprived 25 per cent of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem of access to basic services and goods, while there were more than 473,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
All those measures had led to environmental damages, he said, noting that trees had been set on fire and untreated sewage waste continued to be dumped on Palestinian land. More than 7,000 Palestinian families who depended on agriculture had lost their livelihoods. More than 40 per cent of Palestinians lived in poverty. Israel had taken control of Palestinian water resources and deprived the Palestinians of fresh, clean water. Of the total water supply in the West Bank, only 10 per cent was allocated to the Palestinians.
In the occupied Syrian Golan, Syrian citizens also had limited access to water, he said, pointing out that local farmers had only 25 per cent of the water they needed for agriculture. High taxes imposed by the Israeli authorities on Syrian farmers in the Golan amounted to as much as 50 per cent of the value of their agricultural products. The best solution to that situation was peace, based on the principle of land for peace set forth in the 2002 peace agreement, United Nations resolutions and other initiatives.
MOHAMED AL MURBATI ( Bahrain) noted that many Arab countries had issues relating to economic development and growth because of the six-decade-long Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel had been establishing settlements in, and pursuing the natural resources of, the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as the occupied Syrian Golan, in flagrant infringement of the relevant United Nations resolutions, particularly A/62/181, which reiterated the principle of permanent sovereignty of people under foreign occupation over their natural resources.
General Assembly decisions and resolutions recognized the right of Palestinians to claim compensation owing to the abuse of their natural resources as a result of illegal measures by Israel, he said. The Israeli occupation army’s oppressive measures aimed to isolate the population of the occupied Arab territories from each other and from the external world. That had led to the deterioration of the economy, besides hindering Palestinian access to health and education services, as well as employment. That, in turn, had led to more poverty and the absence of the most basic human needs. In addition to its continuing settlement construction, Israel had also resorted to land confiscation and the building of the separation wall. The reports before the Committee shed light on Israel’s policy of expanding the settlements and dumping nuclear waste in the Golan, among other practices.
HATEM TAG-ELDIN ( Egypt) said the persistent displacement of Palestinians and the building of the separation wall -- in violation of the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice ruling its construction illegal -- the uprooting of trees, the destruction of water resources and the building and expansion of settlements had exacerbated Palestinian unemployment and poverty. Women and children in particular were suffering from hunger, malnutrition and a lack of basic services. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods deprived Palestinians of their basic economic and political rights. The destruction of Palestinian resources had a negative impact on socio-economic infrastructure.
The suffering of Syrians in the occupied Syrian Golan diminished their ability to exploit their natural and economic resources, he said. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions stated that the Israeli annexation of the Golan was illegal, yet Israel continued to expand its settlements there. The facts and figures presented in the Secretary-General’s report provided the background information needed to submit a draft resolution on the matter. Egypt was making every effort to safeguard the peace process and allow Palestinians to fulfil their legitimate aspirations to build an independent State, leading to the full Israeli withdrawal of the territories it had occupied since 1967, and full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative. There could not be a radical change in the humanitarian and economic problems facing the Palestinians without a permanent and just settlement to the conflict. Establishing a Palestinian State required true Israeli political will to withdraw from occupied lands and restore Palestinian rights. Egypt would work with all parties to achieve justice.
YACOUB AL NASRALLAH ( Kuwait) said it was with great concern that his country watched closely Israel’s inhuman practices against the Palestinian people. The Israeli military machine had prevented Palestinians and Arab residents of the occupied Syrian Golan from enjoying the minimum basic living standards, conduct that was tantamount to flagrant defiance of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The erection of the separation wall had created a new pattern of internal emigration that had resulted in more than 700 Palestinian families losing their livelihoods and agricultural land. Israel’s control of most water resources had resulted in serious damage to water networks in the occupied Palestinian territory.
He said occupation policies had contributed to the deterioration of the Palestinian economy, making it a “very difficult task” for the Palestinians to attain the Millennium Development Goals. Arbitrary arrests had led to the jailing of 9,400 political prisoners, among them, 120 women. In the occupied Syrian Golan, the building of Israeli settlements had led to oppressive policies against the Arab population, in particular, levies for services that exceeded those paid by Israeli settlers. Kuwait emphasized its adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative, which called for a just and lasting peace, as well as Israel’s withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, including the occupied Syrian Golan.
MOHAMED A. A. ALAHRAF ( Libya) said the reports before the Committee said nothing about the changes in behaviour or the psychological and material damage affecting the Palestinian people owing to the occupation. Residential borders were being destroyed, Palestinian lands expropriated and territories fragmented. The separation wall divided Palestinian regions into more than a dozen enclaves, and citizens were subjected to inhuman security and arbitrary restrictions. The wall was being constructed in order to fragment Palestinian areas and deprive citizens of access to health or education services. The continuing construction of the wall denied thousands of Palestinian families the pursuit of their agricultural livelihoods, which exacerbated their suffering.
Israel continued to destroy economic facilities and services which had very serious economic and social repercussions, and had led to a negative impact on the living standards of Palestinians, he said. No account had been taken of the worsening difficulties the Palestinians were facing, which impelled them towards marginalization. Libya reaffirmed its support for the Palestinian people’s claims to the right of self-determination, particularly the right of Palestinian children to a homeland. There was a moral obligation regarding that issue. Furthermore, the International Court of Justice should condemn Israel’s illegal activities and hold the occupying authorities responsible for their illegal policies.
TALAL AL-ENAZI ( Qatar) said the question of Palestine had been a major issue on the United Nations agenda and the international community must give it due attention. The ESCWA report indicated that 396 Palestinians had been killed and thousands more injured as a result of targeted assassinations in 2007, 64 per cent of them in the West Bank. There were 89,378 political detainees who were denied court trials despite not having been indicted. The illegal practices of the Israeli authorities continued, including the establishment of the separation wall which was to be 723 kilometres long and cut 22 kilometres into the West Bank, dividing the territory into various besieged pockets. That violation of international law hindered Palestinian socio-economic development.
He recalled that the July 2004 advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice, as well as various United Nations resolutions reiterated that Israeli settlements were illegal and hindered the socio-economic development of Palestinians. General Assembly resolution 61/184 reiterated the illegitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the Syrian Golan. If Israel really wanted peace and security it must implement Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and others, as well as respect the many calls by the Assembly to give the Palestinian people their legitimate right to self-determination and a sovereign Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Right of Reply
The Observer of Palestine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said he was responding to the Israeli delegate’s statement expressing disappointment with the Committee’s consideration of the agenda item. The ESCWA report mentioned that 10,000 people living in the closed zone between the barrier and the green line now required permanent residence to live in their own homes, so they were virtually living in open prisons. The same report noted that 87 per cent of the completed wall would be in the occupied Palestinian territory and almost 10 per cent of the West Bank was isolated between the wall and the green line. In addition, 95 per cent of all industrial establishments in the Gaza Strip had closed down by June 2007. Business productivity had fallen to 11 per cent of capacity. Furthermore, 3,201 trees had been uprooted, burned or cut by Israeli authorities every month in 2007. Those were just a few of the many facts that had led the Committee to discuss the issue every year. In fact, all United Nations agencies and international organizations –- in addition to Israeli human rights organizations -- agreed with those facts. Instead of attacking the Committee’s discussion of the issue, the occupying Power should concentrate on reversing the abhorrent reality by taking steps to alleviate, rather than augment, the suffering of Palestinians in order to have a better tomorrow for both peoples.
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