Although Israel had called for international sanctions against the Palestinians following the election of Hamas in 2006, it found itself scrambling to restore aid to avoid a human catastrophe when it appeared that those sanctions were working too well, Jerusalem-based Alternative Information Center Researcher Shir Hever told the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian people this morning. The Israeli Government was now beginning to understand its responsibility for the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Speaking at the second session of the two-day Seminar being held in Doha, he said prospects for an independent Palestinian State continued to recede. An independent Palestinian State required the abolition of the occupation, implementation of the right of return and compensation for damages caused by the occupation, coupled with massive investments to create jobs and sources of income for the Palestinian economy.
The well-being of Palestine refugees could not be separated or treated differently from their enjoyment of rights and freedoms, the Director of Operational Support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Amman, Lex Takkenberg, said in his presentation.
While UNRWA was aware that the legitimacy of its advocacy role rested on remaining within the boundaries of its humanitarian mandate, he said, it could not, in the current circumstances remain silent. His Agency took a comprehensive approach based on its commitment to the human advancement of each Palestine refugee.
In another presentation, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Officer-in-Charge of the Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit Mahmoud Elkhafif said the greatest developmental restraints facing the Palestinian people were related to the fact that they did not have their own State. He stressed that reform efforts should respond to the strategic imperatives of Palestinian national sovereignty and not to reforming public institutions intended for a transitional phase. Humanitarian and relief assistance must take into account long-term development needs, he said.
The United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Head of Coordination, Alexander Costy, said the United Nations had been repeatedly challenged to demonstrate that a human emergency was unfolding. Clearly, Palestinians and their economy and society were increasingly dependent on humanitarian handouts, and that dependency had risen by 30 per centin the last year.
Increasing amounts of aid were provided to the Occupied Palestinian Territory outside of any framework or process, aid that had no bearing on long-term development prospects or on the building of the institutions of the Palestinian State, he said.
Plenary II: International Response to Needs of Palestinian People
The discussion focused on support by the United Nations system; international donor assistance, including the Temporary International Mechanism; and the role of regional donors.
LEX TAKKENBERG, Director of Operational Support, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Amman, reviewed the Agency’s mandate for humanitarian and human development responsibilities towards 4.3 million Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict. Key programmes included health, relief, social service and the largest programme — education. Quoting the UNRWA annual report, he said widespread unemployment had generated a dramatic increase in demand for UNRWA’s emergency relief services. The Agency had added to its food distribution rolls in Gaza alone some 23,000 Palestinian Authority employees. However, the challenges were surmountable, and there was never a better time for the United Nations to invoke the ideals of the Charter.
Referring to a statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning Abuzayd, he said the Agency’s service orientation meant that they lived and worked in close proximity to and with Palestine refugees. The Agency spoke to States and other political actors on behalf of the refugees and reminded States of the need to keep in view the human dimension of the refugees.
The Agency served as champion of the Palestine refugee issue and encouraged approaches that incorporated humanitarian issues into the search for a solution, he said. It was aware that the legitimacy of its advocacy role rested on remaining within the boundaries of its humanitarian mandate. In the current circumstances, however, the Agency could not remain silent. The well-being of Palestine refugees could not be separated or treated differently from their enjoyment of rights and freedoms. UNRWA took a comprehensive approach that was grounded in a steadfast commitment to the human advancement of each Palestine refugee.
SHIR HEVER, Economic Researcher, Alternative Information Center, Jerusalem, said emergency humanitarian assistance was the only thing staving off hunger and disease in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. At the same time, Israel co-opted that aid to help fund the occupation. Palestinians must buy from Israeli or international companies and pay customs to the Israeli Government. Administrative hurdles prevented the purchase of cheaper goods from Jordan or Egypt. The Israelis also controlled utilities for which Palestinians paid more than Israelis. Foreign aid thus perpetuates the situation in which the Palestinians were a nation of consumers primarily of Israeli goods. The Palestinians’ desperate need became a lever to promote the prosperity of their Israeli occupiers and relieves Israel of its responsibility for destroying the Palestinian economy.
At the same time, he said, Israel also interfered with the delivery of humanitarian aid. Closures, which increased humanitarian deprivation and the necessity for aid, reduced the effectiveness of the aid. The piling on of barriers to block aid to Palestinians was evidence that Israel did see the aid as a threat to its control. Although in early 2004, Israel had asked donor countries and organizations to increase their donations to prevent the complete collapse of the Palestinian Authority, it had called for international sanctions following the election of Hamas in 2006. When it appeared that those sanctions were working too well, Israel found itself scrambling to restore aid to the Palestinians in order to avoid a human catastrophe. They were now beginning to understand their responsibility in such a catastrophe.
Nevertheless, he continued, the Israeli economy as a whole did not profit from the occupation. Israelis paid about $9 billion a year to maintain the settlements and Israel’s military control over the Palestinians. The cost was much more than the profits. In Israel itself, inequality was expanding; poverty was increasing; and the Government’s assets were being liquidated. International donations intended to foster development of an independent Palestinian economy, were countered by Israeli measures, but the donors had not demanded restitution. Prospects for an independent Palestinian State continued to recede. An independent Palestinian State required the abolition of the occupation, implementation of the right of return and compensation for damages caused by the occupation, coupled with massive investments to create jobs and sources of income for the Palestinian economy. Israel’s debt to the Palestinians continued to swell and could only be paid in full when the occupation ended.
MAHMOUD ELKHAFIF, representative of the Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Geneva, reviewed the agency’s work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said that although the prospects for Palestinian Statehood had been illusive over the past years, UNCTAD continued to insist on the need to focus on long-term development goals and had proposed a framework for linking relief and rehabilitation efforts to those goals.
He went on to say that his agency had pointed out the need to base economic policies on a clear understanding of the economy’s growth pattern. He called attention to the existing trade regime as defined by the Paris Protocols which had locked the Palestinian economy in adverse path dependence as evidenced by the economy’s confinement to low-skill, labour-intensive activities and the chronic inability to accommodate the growing labour force. The period between 1994-2000 had seen the institutionalization of Israeli restrictive measures in a policy of asymmetric containment. Those measures had weakened the economy’s productive capacity and the Palestinian Authority institutions in a way that was unlikely to be reversed upon the achievement of political stability.
He said the greatest developmental restraints facing the Palestinian people were related to the fact that they did not have their own State. Most Palestinian governance failures in the past 10 years were induced by external constraints, including occupation and, to some extent, donors’ agenda. Recovery and reconstruction must proceed under adverse conflict and war-like conditions, intensified mobility restrictions, lack of national sovereignty, as well as a systematic dependence on foreign aid. Any future phase of economic rehabilitation and “peacebuilding” in the region could not set as its goal a return to the pre-crisis situation. At the same time, humanitarian and relief assistance must take into account long-term development needs. Reform efforts should respond to the strategic imperatives of Palestinian national sovereignty and not to reforming public institutions intended for a transitional phase. The Palestinian people should set out the goals, policies, and institutions for an independent democratic and modern State including an economic road map to Statehood to ensure cohesion between immediate and strategic goals, where efforts were focused on addressing the economy’s structural weaknesses and poverty reduction.
ALEXANDER COSTY, Head of Coordination, United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process (UNSCO), said that, despite many reports, assistance to Palestinians had not decreased. The change had not been in the level of aid but in its structure. About a third of the total aid was provided for life-sustaining humanitarian programmes — food aid, cash assistance, and emergency support to the social sectors. Implemented by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, humanitarian assistance had doubled over three years.
He said the United Nations had been repeatedly challenged to demonstrate that a human emergency was unfolding. It was clear to any observer that Palestinians and their economy and society were becoming increasingly dependent on humanitarian handouts and that dependency was growing fast. Despite one of the highest levels of aid in the world, Palestinian poverty had risen by 30 per cent in the last year. Public institutions had been weakened and the fiscal crisis and a new kind of violence had intensified. Deaths and injuries resulting from intra-Palestinian violence had increased 10-fold in the last year. United Nations programmes in the Gaza Strip were under threat, and few international staff remained on the ground. United Nations Palestinian staff had been asked to stay at home. Without emergency programmes, however, the situation on the ground could be much worse.
Meanwhile, Palestinian communities had sought to cope in an economy that was increasingly fragmented, localized and inequitable, he said. Institutions could still provide a framework for governance and service delivery, but the bar was lowering. The year 2006 had demonstrated the limits of what international assistance and in particular, humanitarian aid, could accomplish on its own merits. While the international response reflected the international community’s commitment to meeting the growing needs of the Palestinian people, increasing amounts of aid were provided to the Occupied Palestinian Territory outside of any framework or process. Increasingly, that aid had no bearing on long-term development prospects or on the building of the institutions of the Palestinian State. Outside of a political framework, and outside of an enabling economic environment, aid would only contain the spread of social grievances and instability. The United Nations maintained that a Palestinian national unity government and a resumed political dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership offered the best chance for overcoming the impasse peacefully and for returning long-term aid investments to the occupied territories.
Doha meeting explores socio-economic, humanitarian crisis in Palestinian territory, UN (6 February 2007)