The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People explored during its third plenary session the theme “Looking ahead: Creating conditions for Palestinian economic recovery”.
The Former Minister of Public Works and Housing, Palestinian Authority and President, Palestinian Economic Centre for Development and Reconstruction, Mohammed Shtayyeh, said there was no lack of initiatives but a lack of implementation of existing agreements. Another interim agreement would be a failing enterprise. Israelis and Palestinians must go to final negotiations for a permanent solution.
Palestinians had more history than geography and the land was shrinking every day, he added. They were 42 years behind the countries of the region and could not afford to walk. Rather, they must jump.
Knesset Member Zahava Gal-on said the Gaza Strip was the key to the future of the West Bank, and the best chance for change in Gaza and for the rehabilitation of the Palestinian Authority was the introduction of a multinational force. It would help rebuild wrecked civilian systems, prevent a humanitarian crisis and rebuild a stable socio-economic civilian structure.
If it were successful, she said, the force would be deployed in the West Bank. It would prevent Israeli military incursions, address Israeli fear of Palestinian rockets, be responsible for daily coordination between Israel and the Palestinians, supervise the implementation of the ceasefire and other agreements and mediate between the relevant parties.
The Director-General of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, Samir Abdullah, said education was the only area where Palestinians could build political capital. It relied totally on foreign aid and faced huge deficits and its collapse would affect future generations. At the same time, he said, there was a notable deterioration in health services which were under extreme pressure with scarce resources. It needed fresh funds.
Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh said Palestinians could not plan economically without a political vision. The leadership must have a common vision that was pragmatic and implementable. Some of the internal fighting was a result of the external pressure, but some related to the lack of consensus about the shape of the solution with Israel.
Was a two-State solution possible today when it had not been possible 20 years ago? he asked. The events of the last 20 years had been preceded by Israeli actions concerning the annexation of Jerusalem in 1967 — it had ended up as one city. There was no possibility of a two-State solution as envisaged by Sharon. The two-State solution could only be applied through extraordinary international intervention and pressure.
In the closing session that followed plenary III, speakers included the Assistant Foreign Minister for Follow-Up Affairs of Qatar, Mohammed Abdullah Mutib Al Rumaihi; the Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour; and the Chairman of the Committee, Paul Badji.
Plenary III: “Looking ahead: Creating conditions for Palestinian economic recovery — urgent political imperatives — resuming the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue; restoring the Palestinian Authority’s economic capacity; and addressing socio-economic and humanitarian priorities.”
MOHAMMED SHTAYYEH, Former Minister of Public Works and Housing, Palestinian Authority and President, Palestinian Economic Centre for Development and Reconstruction, Jerusalem, said there was no lack of initiatives but a lack of implementation of existing agreements. All indications pointed to a growing emergency situation. Palestinians were unable to control their natural resources. The economy was not able to absorb labourers formerly employed in Israel. They had no control over land borders. The wall was sneaking into Palestinian Territory, putting an end to the concept of a viable Palestinian State. Roads which formerly went from north to south had been redesigned to go from east to west.
He went on to say that the Palestinian Authority had built certain aspects of the infrastructure, but there was no political frame to determine if the focus was an interim period or a Palestinian State. The Palestinian geography was totally fragmented. The Palestinian market was small. The goal of development should focus on a productive economic base to redirect aid to the development effort on the ground. Palestinians must provide a stable security situation and a stable administrative structure. Israel must regenerate hope for the Palestinian people that it would end the occupation. It should lift its internal closure for Palestinians who needed to go from one part of the Territory to another. If the Road Map was in fact the only game in town, Israel should also be required to implement it.
Palestinians had more history than geography and the land was shrinking every day, he said. The Palestinian case was so unique that there was no developmental paradigm for it to follow. When focusing on the future, Palestinians should not ignore the political frame. The development of education was critical. Palestinians were 42 years behind the region. They could not afford to walk, but must jump. It was not enough to talk about private sector development. Palestinians must have their own industrial development to create jobs for people rather than be dependent on Israel. The target of donor money should be economic aid that would include financial risk insurance to attract international investment in the Palestinian Territory. Another interim agreement would be a failing enterprise. Israelis and Palestinians must go to final negotiations for a permanent solution. There was no room for unilateral measures. Meanwhile Palestinians must re-establish a national address for donor aid. Today it was dispersed in many directions.
ZAHAVA GAL-ON, member of the Knesset, said Israel’s biggest mistake was that it took too long to open negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after his election. It should have made a sincere effort to strengthen him and his moderate supporters. Another huge mistake was that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza did not transfer control to an organized qualified agency capable of implementing it. The unilateral approach was a flawed policy. It should have been negotiated with President Abbas. In addition, the American administration, after pressing hard for the Palestinians to hold elections, backed Israel’s refusal to talk with the Hamas Government, a decision which imposed greater economic hardship on the Palestinian civilian population. The Israeli tendency to rely on force instead of dialogue had proven ineffective.
It was time for the international community to reassess its approach to the conflict, she said. For progress to occur there must be a Palestinian unity Government, inclusion of the West Bank in the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, return of the captured Israeli soldier in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and most importantly, a new vision for peace with greater involvement of the international community. Peace would be achieved if Israel withdrew from all land occupied in 1967.
The Gaza Strip was the key for the future of the West Bank, she continued. The best chance for change in the basic conditions in Gaza and for the rehabilitation and recovery of the Palestinian Authority lay in the introduction of a multinational force. The force would be responsible for rebuilding the wrecked civilian systems, helping to prevent a humanitarian crisis and rebuilding a stable socio-economic civilian structure. If the effort were successful, the force would next be deployed in the West Bank. Its presence would prevent Israeli military incursions and address Israeli fear of Palestinian rockets. It would also be responsible for daily coordination between Israel and the Palestinians, supervise the implementation of the ceasefire and other agreements and mediate between the relevant parties.
SAMIR ABDULLAH, Director-General, Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, Ramallah, said Palestinians woke up every morning to find their resources further diminished. They were addicts to foreign assistance. Describing difficulties faced by Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said it was impossible to create the climate necessary for growth. Yet, they could not remain idle in the face of destruction and must improve the mechanisms of development. The first principle was to accompany economical support with political support. That required tireless efforts at the diplomatic level. There must be an end to the top-down approach created by external forces. Palestinians must give priority to ending security anarchy and to establishing law and order. If they could not themselves control the situation, it would be difficult to break the cycle. They must pay salaries in a timely manner, dissolve all armed gangs, collect all weapons and improve the court system so as to establish the rule of law. Without the establishment of law and order they could not make progress in other fields.
Education was the only place where Palestinians could build political capital, he said. It relied totally on foreign aid and faced huge deficits. Its collapse would affect future generations. At the same time, there was a notable deterioration in health services which were under extreme pressure with scarce resources and it needed fresh funds. A major challenge was unemployment. The unemployment figures did not include 100,000 workers who were so frustrated they no longer sought work. There were actually 212,000 unemployed. The problem exploded acutely when Israel stopped Palestinian workers from coming to Israel. The withholding of Palestinian revenues and the building of the wall made the problem worse. Unemployment would deteriorate further as Israel had decided to refuse any employment to Palestinians as of 2008. The territories needed high economic growth to absorb the unemployed.
Unless the investment climate was created, there would not be an environment for the Palestinian economy to grow, he continued. Exemptions must be increased to allow investments from regional investors. Israel must allow Palestinians to cross into neighbouring countries for trade. That would help to recreate the infrastructure. The other challenge was poverty. Indications were that 2.1 million lived under the poverty level. Forty-nine per cent lived in abject poverty and the problem was even worse in the Gaza Strip. Yet Palestinians were facing a situation of impoverishment not poverty. Those who were capable of working must be provided with jobs to extricate them from poverty. They must not allow the forces of destruction to win.
SARI NUSSEIBEH, President, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem, said reports indicated that financial support had increased, but the situation in the Occupied Territory was grim. In the field of education, teachers were receiving a portion of their salary. Students could no longer pay their fees and the Authority could also not pay its share. If they could not attract people to come back to work in the universities, it would have a negative effect on Palestinian development. Reviewing the history, he said that 20 years ago the dual infrastructure constructed by Israel had become a fait acompli. The maps of 20 years ago showed that the two-State solution was not acceptable then. Another solution was needed.
He said Palestinians could not plan economically without a political vision. Were the assistance funds emergency or non-emergency and were they really useful or were they injurious? he asked. Some felt that the human needs must be met until a solution was found. The leadership must have a common vision that was pragmatic and implementable. Some of the internal fighting was a result of the external pressure, but some related to the lack of consensus about the shape of the solution with Israel. Was a two-State solution possible today when it had not been possible 20 years ago? What happened in the last 20 years had been preceded by Israeli actions in West Jerusalem in 1967 when it had been annexed to Israel. It had ended up as one city. There was no possibility of a two-State solution as envisaged by Sharon.
The two-State solution could only be applied through extraordinary international intervention and pressure, he said. The United States and the Quartet should effectively intervene and move into the territories and ask the two sides to form a solution. Visiting the area two or three times a year was not effective. To apply the two-State solution, there was a need to return to thinking about an international campaign spearheaded by the United Nations and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, with emphasize on inalienable. He suggested the imposition of a boycott on Israeli merchandise or any kind of peaceful sanction. That step should be targeted towards achieving a political objective.
Ahmad Bin Abdullah Al-Mahmoud, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, opened the two-day meeting which began on 5 February. Participants also were addressed by United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane on behalf of the Secretary-General; Chairman of the Committee Paul Badji; and Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Nabil Sha’ath.
Panelists in the first plenary reviewed the socio-economic emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its impact on the Palestinian economy. They looked in particular at the socio-economic decline of the Gaza Strip and the plight of the most vulnerable — Palestinian women, children and elderly. Panelists expressed concern that concentration on meeting immediate needs overlooked long-term development and focused on development for a transitory period instead of the requirements for an independent State.
The second plenary covered international response to the needs of the Palestinian people, with specific discussion of United Nations support and international donor assistance. It was noted that the humanitarian aid had remained stable but the quality of the aid changed with greater emphasis on meeting basic needs. It was suggested that Israel co-opted the aid to pay for the occupation. Several participants stressed that the socio-economic situation would not improve as long as the occupation remained in place.
In the third plenary, experts discussed conditions for Palestinian economic recovery such as resuming the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and the restoration of the Palestinian Authority’s economic capacity. They also addressed socio-economic and humanitarian priorities.
Representatives of 51 Governments, the Observer of Palestine, 4 intergovernmental organizations, 11 United Nations agencies and bodies, 10 civil society organizations as well as 17 media representatives took part in the two-day meeting. Held at the Sheraton Hotel Doha Conference Center, the Seminar was divided into three plenaries and involved the participation of 13 experts.
The Seminar was convened in accordance with General Assembly resolution 61/22 of 1 December 2006. By that resolution, the Assembly requests the Committee to continue to promote the realization of Palestinian rights, to support the Middle East peace process and to mobilize international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people. It also requests the Committee to keep under review the situation relating to the question of Palestine and to continue to cooperate with and support Palestinian and other civil society organizations, particularly during this period of humanitarian hardship and financial crisis. To facilitate this, the Assembly also, by resolution 61/23 of December 2006, requests the Secretary-General to provide the Division of Palestinian Rights with the resources to carry out its programme of work in consultation with the Committee, in particular the organization of international meetings and conferences in various regions.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by General Assembly resolution 3376 (XXX) of November 1975. By that resolution, the Assembly mandated the Committee to recommend a programme to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights as recognized by General Assembly resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974.
In its first and subsequent reports to the Assembly, the Committee has stressed that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and the following principles: the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, and from other occupied Arab territories; respect for the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries; and the recognition and exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination. Each year the Assembly has renewed the Committee’s mandate and requested it to intensify its efforts.
The Committee is composed of the following Member States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Observers of the Committee are: Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Niger, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Syria, Palestine, African Union, League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Doha meeting explores socio-economic, humanitarian crisis in Palestinian territory, UN (6 February 2007)