With Palestinians’ living conditions deteriorating drastically, hundreds of experts gathered at the United Nations headquarters in Beirut today to kick off a four-day meeting aimed at generating long-term solutions to their plight.
Officially called “The Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Towards an Independent State,” the unprecedented event aimed at helping to build a secure, sustainable and sovereign Palestine.
Organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the League of Arab States and the Palestinian Authority, the meeting drew more than 700 participants, including senior officials from across the region.
Underscoring the drastic situation of the Palestinians, ESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy noted that over the past four years, 47 per cent of Palestinian households have lost more than 50 per cent of their revenue, with poverty levels reaching 63 per cent last year. One quarter to one third of all Palestinians suffer from unemployment, while 2 million of them live on less than $2.10 a day. Another 42 per cent of Palestinian households depend on humanitarian assistance for survival.
Ms. Tallawy called the rehabilitation and development of the Palestinian Territories “one of the most important regional causes,” pointing out that an expanded social and economic capacity should be the first line of defence in limiting Israeli expansion.
She also called for a shift of international efforts from emergency relief to comprehensive development through a true partnership between the Palestinian economy and society and the Arab region.
“The Forum does not aim at putting forward a political stance, or at collecting money or donations, although there is a need for these,” she said. “Rather it aims to overcome the current situation, to provide a right to life under occupation and to support the resista
to build an independent State.”
The Deputy Secretary-General of the Arab League, Said Kamal, emphasized the importance of establishing a firm Arab-international partnership that can actively support the Palestinian people in achieving a free democratic State with high living standards. The international community, he added, must not only make contributions to help repair the damage caused by Israeli policies, it must also oblige Israel to stop those policies and pay compensation to the Palestinian people.
Palestinian Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Shaath said Israeli efforts to undermine the Palestinian economy and people had severely limited Palestinian efforts to develop, but had not diminished the will to survive.
He urged participants to seize the opportunity provided by the Forum to support all initiatives aimed at building a modern and democratic State allied with the region.
“We are not here to cry about our situation,” he said. “We are here to say we are adamant to continue with the process of development with the aim of building our own independent State.”
Representing Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Minister for Social Affairs Asaad Diab emphasized the need for a plan for sustainable development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Towards this end, he urged Arab solidarity, aid for economic development in Palestine by all Arab institutions and agencies, and support for the right of return.
The Forum, which closes on 14 October, is intended to enhance Arab and international support for rehabilitation and development in the occupied Palestinian territories, despite ongoing conflict and occupation. ESCWA has organized a number of parallel exhibits to highlight the vivacity of Palestinian culture.