Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on international donors to make up “the current, worrying shortfall” in the budget of the United Nations agency that tends to the needs of millions of Palestinian refugees, with an operational deficit of over $100 million already looming.
“Such efforts merit strong support from the international community,” he said in a message delivered by UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Kevin Kennedy to the second annual meeting of UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) host authorities and donor governments in Amman, Jordan.
“While awaiting the fulfilment of their political rights, Palestinian refugees have a right to live in safety and dignity, and are entitled to services and opportunities,” he added.
“At a time when the Middle East continues to be roiled by conflict and tension, UNRWA remains a force for stability. As a bulwark against difficult conditions, it provides life-sustaining services to a population of 4.3 million Palestinian refugees. And as a constant, wide-ranging presence, it is a symbol of international concern for their plight.”
Overall, 12 UN agencies and 14 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the occupied Palestinian territory last week sought a record $453.6 million for 2007 to address a rapidly deteriorating situation after donors cut off funds to the Government when Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, won elections earlier this year.
Mr. Annan noted the crises, including the situation stemming from the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories that began in 2000, the funding cuts after Hamas’ election victory, and this summer’s war between Israel and Hizbollah in Lebanon.
“Despite the setbacks of the past year, we must all persist in our efforts to nurture peace. The United Nations remains committed to a negotiated, two-state solution, one that would end the occupation that began in 1967, establish an independent State of Palestine, ensure security for Israel, and involve a just and durable solution to the refugee problem,” he said.
“Recent months have seen civilians on both sides fall victim to indiscriminate violence. However, I must note that the disproportionate burden of deaths and injuries has been borne by Palestinians. This has only added to the hardship inflicted on the population by restrictions on movement and access,” he added.
He stressed that the Palestinian Authority’s ability to deliver services has deteriorated severely following the Hamas election victory. Israel stopped handing over tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Authority, and international donors suspended direct aid, calling on Hamas to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians
“The plight of the Palestine refugees has now persisted for many decades. And UNRWA has now served four generations of Palestinians in need,” Mr. Annan declared of the agency that was set up in 1949 following the war between the Arab nations and the new state of Israel.
“Fortunately, they are a resilient and resourceful people. These qualities have helped them to sustain their communities in the face of persistent challenges and conflict, and led them to register impressive gains in health and literacy. The international community must do its part in helping Palestinians to secure their personal well-being and to achieve their basic rights,” he concluded.