A new $3 million project to help rehabilitate Palestinian farmlands was announced today in conjunction with a United Nations-backed international forum meeting in Beirut to address the damaging effects of the Israeli occupation.
The Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Mervat Tallawy, said the new initiative will be carried out by the Iitilaf Al-Kheir association.
Her comments came during a press conference where the Islamic Development Bank, working in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, also announced a new Gaza Initiative - with a starting fund of $26 million - aimed at providing direct assistance to the Palestinian people.
“The Gaza Initiative is intended to be a quick response to help Gaza following the Israeli incursion,” Mansour Bin Fatah of the Al Aqsa Fund told reporters, noting that for many Palestinians, basic services such as electricity and access to food and water have been completely destroyed.
Since the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza on 28 September 2004, more than 110 Palestinian civilians have been killed, including 29 children. At least 362 others have been wounded and scores of buildings have been completely demolished. Numerous public facilities, including police and security posts, schools, mosques and kindergartens, have been damaged or destroyed.
News of the initiatives came following morning sessions during the second day of the four-day Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Towards an Independent State, organized by ESCWA, the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority.
During those deliberations, Forum Coordinator Hassan Sharif drew on a recent UN report to point out that in the past year, 1 million fruit-bearing trees have been damaged in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as over 1,000 water wells. Roadblocks and other obstructions to movement, “particularly the separation wall,” have severely damaged the economy and social fabric of the Palestinian population, he noted.
Speakers widely agreed that the repercussions of the Israeli occupation could not be separated from prospects for economic and social development in the Palestinian territories. At the same time, many described a Palestinian vision for viable development.
Palestinian Minister of Labour Gahssan Al-Khatib stressed the need to focus on individuals. He called for increasing job opportunities in the Palestinian territories, supporting the Palestinian Authority, bolstering partnerships with businesses, improving educational facilities and distributing wealth fairly.
Fadle Naqib, Adviser to the Ministry of Planning, said, “Israel will never relinquish the occupation as long as the gains exceed the losses.” As such, he said any development plan must support direct investment that would create jobs for Palestinians and rehabilitate the business sector.
George Abed, Special Adviser to the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), emphasized the need for internal reform in order to achieve sustainable development, including organizing and following through with elections, dividing legislative powers fairly, creating a framework for a government of national unity, and supporting private businesses.
He also stressed the importance of planning in advance for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. “We must not be taken by surprise when they withdraw, or else what was there will be replaced with internal conflict and strife, just as many people expect.”