Housing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and establishment of a human settlements fund

Activities of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat: Progress report of the executive director


Report of the Executive Director on the implementation of resolution 18/12 Housing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and establishment of a human settlements fund for the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories.


1. At its eighteenth session, in February 2001, the Commission on Human Settlements adopted resolution 18/12 on illegal Israeli human settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The resolution, inter alia, requested the Executive Director in its operative paragraph 4 to “organize a meeting on the establishment of a human settlements fund for the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories” and, in operative paragraph 5, to prepare a comprehensive report “regarding the housing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and the problems posed by the Israeli illegal actions in this respect …”. Pursuant to that resolution, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) undertook fieldwork in the occupied Palestinian territories during which discussions were held with many stakeholders from public institutions, civil society, the private sector and international organizations.

2. Fieldwork in the occupied Palestinian territories was carried out in October and November 2002 by two teams of consultants, supported by a non-governmental research institution with extensive experience in the Middle East. Backstopping by UN-HABITAT staff included one joint mission with the consultants as well as headquarters support. Information was gathered mainly through consultative meetings with a wide range of stakeholders and a review of published reports and other written material. The stakeholders interviewed included: ministries of the Palestinian Authority; public and private organizations; Palestinian, Israeli and international non-governmental organizations; bilateral organizations; United Nations agencies and the World Bank.

3. The present report draws on the fieldwork carried out by the consultants and on other information available to the secretariat. It comprises two sections: Part One, which provides an assessment of the housing situation and housing needs in the occupied Palestinian territories;1 and Part Two, which describes a special human settlements programme for the occupied Palestinian territories to be financed by a technical cooperation trust fund.2 Part Two has benefited from the proceedings of an expert group meeting convened by UN-HABITAT in January 2003 to discuss the proposed human settlements fund. The expert group meeting was attended by international experts on human settlements from UN-HABITAT and other organizations. Part Two has also drawn from the outcome of a meeting of government representatives held on 20 February 2003 (see paragraph 53 of Part Two).

Development context

4. During the past two years, the stalemate in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has turned into open conflict and hostilities have intensified. Following the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel in 1967, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories have expanded, increasing from 20 settlements in 1977 (3,876 settlers) 3 to 128 currently (205,600 settlers),4 of which 121 are in the West Bank and 7 in the Gaza Strip.5

5. As a result of conflict and governance problems, human settlements conditions have continued to deteriorate. Restrictions on population movements and military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories have contributed to Palestinian unemployment. Poverty has deepened, with 55 per cent of the population in the West Bank and 70 per cent of those living in the Gaza Strip defined as poor.6

6. The existing conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories has had a negative impact on human settlements and a large number of houses and related infrastructure networks have been destroyed7. Since the start of the second intifada around 40,000 dwellings have either been damaged or destroyed.8

7. There is a serious human settlements problem exacerbated by conflict, poverty and the lack of Palestinian institutional capacity. It is estimated that around 59,000 new houses are needed to reduce overcrowding whilst another 71,000 dwellings require renovation or extension. The actual housing shortfall is even wider as account must be taken of the dwellings destroyed or damaged as a result of ongoing hostilities, as well as those pulled down because they do not have a building permit. The housing deficit will take many years to redress unless the recent level of housing production, averaging less than 10,0009 dwellings a year, is substantially raised.

8. The economy of the occupied Palestinian territories has hitherto depended to a large extent on the Israeli economy, with 96 per cent of Palestinian exports destined for Israel and labour flows into Israel (pre-intifada) accounting for up to one-quarter of total Palestinian employment. When security measures eased in 1998, 1999 and during the first part of 2000, the Palestinian economy experienced a 5 per cent yearly growth in gross domestic product, illustrating the potential impact of a conflict-free environment.10

9. Increasingly, the Palestinian state budget is used for salary expenses, and the proportion devoted to investments has declined. At the same time, donor focus has shifted from development to emergency issues. In spite of budgetary support by donors, the Palestinian Authority continues to face a financial deficit, estimated at $371 million in 2001.11

10. Industrial production dropped by at least 65 per cent in the first years of the intifada (2000-2001) resulting in a loss of $556 million.12 Moreover, imports have declined sharply, severely reducing the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenue. Exports of agricultural products have fallen by 30 per cent of their potential value and manufactured goods for export had fallen by 24 per cent of their value by the end of 2001.13

11. Municipal authorities have also experienced financial stress. Financial transfers from the centre were never substantial but their levels have now dropped sharply. At the same time, local revenue sources have been eroded by the adverse political and economic environment.

* In its resolution 56/206 of 21 December 2001, the General Assembly transformed the Commission on Human Settlements into the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. This session has been designated as the nineteenth instead of the first session of the Governing Council to signify the continuity and relationship between the Governing Council and the Commission on Human Settlements.

** HSP/GC/19/1.


1 Based on Tiltnes, A. A. and Magembe (2003) “Housing Situation and Housing Needs Assessment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Report to UN-HABITAT. See Information Document ……, available in English.

2 Based on Ruden A . (2003 ) “Proposed Human Settlements Fund for the Palestinian People “. Report to UN-HABITAT. See I n formation Document ……. , available in English.

3 Tufakji, K. (2000) “Settlements: A Geographic and Demographic Barrier to Peace” Palestine -Israel Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3&4, pp. 52-58

4 ICBS (2002) Statistical Abstract of Israel 002 2, No. 53 Jerusalem: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics; A higher figure (more than 160 settlements) has been cited by Graham, S. (2002) ‘Clean Territory’: Urbicide in the West Bank.

5 PASSIA (2002) The Palestine Question in Maps, 878 1 -2002 , Jerusalem: PASSIA (Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs)

6 UNSCO (2002) The Impact of Closure and other Mobility Restrictions on Palestinian Activities, 1 January 2002 — 30 June 2002, October, Office of the United Nations Special Co-ordinator (UNSCO)

7 United Nations (2002a) Humanitarian Plan of Action for the Palestinian Territory. UN’s Technical Assistance Mission, October 2002.

8 United Nations ibid.

9 Tiltnes, A. A. and Magembe p. cit.o

10 World Bank (2002a) Long-Term Policy Options for the Palestinian Economy , July, Jerusalem: World Bank West Bank and Gaza office.

11 Development Studies Programme (2002) Palestine Human Development Report 002 2 . Birzeit University

12 P CBS, and Industry and Labour Statistics, cited in McDowall, D. (2003) Losing Ground: Israel, poverty and the Palestinians. Christian Aid.

13 World Bank (2002b) Fifteen Months — Intifada, Closures and Palestinian Economic Crisis: An Assessment. March 2002.

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  • Full report (PDF)