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Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear colleagues and friends,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the AHLC.
Let me first thank my colleague and co-sponsor of the AHLC, High Representative Federica Mogherini, for kindly hosting us in Brussels.
Let me also extend a warm welcome to Finance Minister Bishara and to the Israeli delegation.
It is vital that the international community remains united in the strategic goal to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.
Let me reiterate the fundamental pillars of the AHLC:
- A negotiated two-state solution is the strategic goal of everything we do. A future Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, in peace and security.
- Only the two-state solution and a resolution of all outstanding issues can deliver durable peace between Israel and Palestine.
- Economic development and institution building are important building blocks of state building, but they can never supplant a political resolution.
- Gaza is an integral part of Palestine and must be part of a future Palestinian state. That is why the PA must return to Gaza.
Colleagues and friends,
The political environment is extraordinary difficult.
Palestinian living standards continue to decline, this is especially dramatic in Gaza.
Even though the fiscal performance by the PA improved last year, and the financial sector remains stable, the economic outlook is stagnant. The growth rates are low.
We must continue to push for progress along three tracks, the fiscal files, economic development, and Gaza.
The reports delivered to this meeting supports such an approach.
Today I will focus on Gaza, where the situation is most dire.
Behind the blockade the two million citizens of Gaza are desperately in need of energy, water and sanitation, jobs and trade and immediate humanitarian assistance.
Gaza is largely a cash-economy depending on foreign aid and cash remittances. Social assistance is mainly provided by UNRWA.
Gaza cannot survive on internal revenue collection alone. Spending on Gaza accounts for one-third of total PA spending, but Gaza revenues only account one-tenth of total PA revenues.
None of this is sustainable.
Two million people live in Gaza. We cannot fail them.
The internal division between the Palestinian factions now prevents the people from access to basic services like electricity, water and medical supplies.
The people of Gaza should not carry this burden.
We have not yet managed to improve conditions for trade in and out of Gaza, and we are not near any satisfactory solution to access and movement of people and goods.
Returning the PA to Gaza is a complicated task. It will take time. All outstanding files must be addressed, including access and movement and security.
I would like to make three political observations that are key to progress:
First, the international community must approach Gaza as an integral part of a future Palestinian state. The political divide between Gaza and the West Bank must end.
Second, there must be a long-term commitment by the international community to continue providing aid to the Palestinian people.
Third, there is no doubt that the closure regime must be eased, and the dual use list be relaxed. Removal of the decade-old blockade on Gaza will have huge impact on the access and movement of people and goods.
Today, we will develop a common approach to Gaza. This approach must include both rapid results on the ground as well as measures that will enable PAs return to Gaza.
The livelihood of two million people of Gaza must guide our commitments, and our long-term strategy must be political.
The donors have consulted over the past weeks. The aim has been to mobilize donor support and to agree on water and energy projects as well as on measures to improve access and movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. These projects are to start quickly, and they aim at having a rapid impact for the people of Gaza.
Let me congratulate PA and the EU on the successful conference on the Gaza desalination plant, earlier today.
I would also like to thank Egypt, in particular, for its persistent efforts, and for hosting a regional meeting in Cairo with the parties, the co-sponsors of the AHLC, the UN and the Chair.
Let me close by stressing that I am pleased to see the international community remains committed to support Palestinian institution building and strengthening the Palestinian economy, including in Gaza.