Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People opens in Cairo, Secretary-General calls on international community to intensify support for Palestinians

Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. (UN Photo)


CAIRO — At the opening session of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he respected the decision of the Palestinian people in their election of a Palestinian Legislative Council and hoped the new Cabinet of the Palestinian Authority could address their aspiration for peace and statehood, as articulated by President Mahmoud Abbas.

In a statement read out by Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane, he called on both parties to work towards the implementation of the Access and Movement Agreement, and urged the international community to find ways of continuing and intensifying support for the Palestinian people. All must understand that the Palestinian Authority must provide the bulk of the basic services necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis.

The theme of the two-day Cairo meeting sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People is “International efforts at alleviating the Palestinian economic and humanitarian crisis”. The meeting will assess the economic and humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and discuss the support of the United Nations and the international donor community extended to the Palestinian people.

All of the speakers this morning expressed their condolences to the Egyptian Government and people following the terrorist attack in the Sinai resort town of Dahab.

The Assistant Minister for Multilateral Relations for Egypt, Naela Gabr, said her Government was against punishing the Palestinian people for their choice in free, fair and democratic elections. The interruption of aid had caused intolerable hardship to the Palestinian people, increasing poverty and soaring unemployment, but peace would not come about through violence and counter-violence. It could not be achieved by targeting civilians or causing Palestinians to live in hunger. The continued imposition of Israeli measures which resulted in the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation would lead to further deterioration of the security situation and would increase intransigence among the Palestinians.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji, said a humanitarian catastrophe was imminent. The Palestinian Authority treasury was empty, and it was no longer capable of paying its employees. There would not be a single perspective of economic or humanitarian development unless the occupation was brought to an end, he said. He called on the international community to assist the Palestinian People and put pressure on Israel to end the occupation.

Representative of Palestine Nabil Sha’ath stated Israel was not being called to task for all its violations of United Nations resolutions. Yet, Palestinians who had held free, fair and transparent elections which had been observed by international monitors were being punished for their elective choices. To deprive Palestinians of money and food was immoral, unethical and unjustified he said. The Palestinian Legislative Council elected by the people had chosen its cabinet. The President had special powers and had declared that the Palestinian Authority continued to be bound by its commitments.

Other speakers in this morning’s discussion included the representatives of Cuba, Indonesia and Malta. The representatives of the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also spoke.

The Seminar, convened under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will be divided into two plenaries in which experts will participate in panel discussions. In Plenary I, panellists will discuss the scope of the economic and humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Experts in Plenary II will take up the United Nations and the international donor community’s support of the Palestinian people. Invited to the meeting are international experts, including Israelis and Palestinians, representatives of the United Nations Member and observer States, the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations, the academic community and civil society organizations. Representatives of the media are also attending the Seminar.

This afternoon, in Plenary I, participants will hear presentations concerning the main characteristics of the crisis and the living conditions of the Palestinian people; facts on the ground compounding the crisis; and modalities for rehabilitating and stabilizing the Palestinian economy.

Opening Statements

NAELA GABR, Assistant Minister for Multilateral Relations of Egypt, said the concerns of the Palestinian people were taking precedence. Her Government was against punishing the Palestinian people for their choice in free, fair and democratic elections. The interruption of aid had caused intolerable hardship to the Palestinian people, increasing poverty and soaring unemployment.

She said the continued imposition by Israel of measures to impede the movement of trade, among other things, prevented Palestinians from getting to their jobs in Israel. The resulting deterioration in the economic and humanitarian situation would lead to further deterioration of the security situation and would increase intransigence among the Palestinians.

She stressed that peace would not come about through violence and counter violence. It could not be achieved by targeting civilians or causing Palestinians to live in hunger. Rather, it would come about through negotiations and respect for the free will of the Palestinian people. She called on the international community to spare the region the mistakes of past. Egypt had spared no effort to assist in finding a peaceful solution. It would continue its contacts with all parties to create a rapprochement of all positions and to facilitate a future in which two democratic States could live side by side in peace and security.

In a statement read out by ANGELA KANE, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the Secretary-General said he respected the Palestinian people’s decision in their election of a Palestinian Legislative Council, and he hoped the new Palestinian Authority Cabinet would address their aspirations for peace and statehood as articulated by President Mahmoud Abbas. Accordingly, he called on the Palestinian Authority to reaffirm the Palestinian commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.

He also called on the new Israeli Government to live up to its commitments, including the cessation of settlement activity and other actions that could prejudice final status issues. He encouraged Israel to recognize that a peaceful solution could not be imposed unilaterally or outside the framework of a comprehensive regional peace. Expressing concern about the intensification of violence, he called on both sides to abide by their obligations under international law and refrain from action that might escalate the situation and put civilians at risk. He also voiced concern over the Palestinian living conditions which were in danger of deteriorating into a serious humanitarian crisis. Discontinuation of direct support to the Palestinian Authority by key donors, Israel’s continued withholding of tax clearance revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, as well as the restriction of movement of people and goods, all exacerbated Palestinian poverty and unemployment.

He called on both parties to work towards the implementation of last November’s agreement on access and movement and urged the international community to find effective ways of continuing and intensifying support of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority, however, must provide the bulk of the irreplaceable basic services necessary to avert a human crisis. Increased United Nations and non-governmental organization activity could not fill the void that would be created should the institutions of the Palestinian Authority be unable to do so. The international community must find a way to advance the goal of the two-State solution which was vital to the peace and security of both peoples and the region. The United Nations would continue to support international efforts aimed at bringing an end to the occupation that began in 1967, and achieving a just lasting and comprehensive settlement leading to peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressed his condolences to the Egyptian people over the loss of life in the recent bomb attacks in Dahab.

He also expressed a special welcome to UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and celebrated Egyptian actor Mohamed Kabil.

He said the meeting was dedicated to extending assistance and relief to the Palestinian people. The situation had never been as bad as it was now due to the repeated closures. A humanitarian catastrophe was imminent. Karni, the main crossing point for food and goods of vital necessity, had remained closed for 53 days. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was no longer capable of carrying out emergency operations because of the lack of food. Export losses since the beginning of the year were estimated at nearly $30 million. The Agreement which established goals for the passage of goods at the Karni was not being observed. The number of trucks crossing had fallen to 15 a day. The Palestinian Authority treasury was empty. It was no longer capable of paying its employees. The financial crisis could easily develop into a humanitarian crisis.

Continuing, he said that certain assistance programmes had been suspended because the Government under Hamas did not subscribe to the principles of the Road Map. It was indispensable to ensure the continued functioning of principles established by the Oslo Process. Years of efforts and resources had been devoted to the institutions that were considered the fundamentals of a Palestinian State. Abandoning them would be tantamount to abandoning all the efforts that had been made. He hoped that the Seminar would be an occasion to examine the situation and propose new ideas to extend assistance to the Palestinian people and help them overcome the current crisis.

He recalled that the reasons of the conflict continued to reside in the occupation of Palestinian lands and as a result of acts taken by the occupying authority. There would not be a single perspective of economic or humanitarian development unless the occupation was brought to an end. He called on the international community to assist the Palestinian people and put pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Only through negotiations could lasting peace be reached. Unilateral measures would not achieve peace.

NABIL SHAATH, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Representative of Palestine, said that at a time when the survival of the Palestinian people and the peace process itself was in danger, holding the seminar was vastly important. Although the Palestinian people had joined efforts to reach peace through direct negotiations, they continued to live under occupation and to be deprived of freedom. The current siege had been exacerbated by the international support given to the Israeli position. It made the problem impossible to deal with and would lead to the collapse of the Palestinian State.

Stressing the importance of what was happening on the ground, he said the financial and material siege under which Gaza was living involved all aspects of life. People were immobilized, and the territories were dislocated and isolated from the rest of the world. The Agreement on Movement and Access had not been implemented. The situation was serious. Countries had the right to give or not give aid, but it was a moral responsibility to help the Palestinian people. Israel was not punished for all its violations of United Nations resolutions. Yet, Palestinians were being punished by not allowing them to bring in money or food. It was immoral, unethical and unjustified.

The elections had been free, fair and transparent and observed by international monitors. The Palestinian Legislative Council, elected by the people, had chosen its cabinet. The President had special powers and had declared that Palestinian Authority continued to be bound by its commitments. It was the Palestinian Authority‘s responsibility to cooperate with the Palestinian President. They were responsible for reaching unity through dialogue. They would solve their internal problems and they would not lead to internecine warfare.

Other Statements

The representative of Cuba said the policies of the occupying country had had tragic consequences for the Palestinians. Washington had kept the Security Council hostage on this subject by making use of the veto 29 times. To add injury to crime, following the assassination of Palestinian leaders, western sources demanded that Palestinians put an end to violence. It would seem like black humour if it was not meant to manipulate public opinion. The illegal wall would be 7,200 kilometres long and would separate more than 500,000 Palestinians from their family lands and basic services. It was meant to prevent the creation of an integrated and viable Palestinian State. The Palestinian people had democratically and fairly elected a government. The United States Government’s answer had been financial blackmail, a political move meant to stimulate internal division among Palestinians. The international community must categorically reject and condemn such practices. A just and lasting peace would not be possible until the illegal occupation came to an end and Palestinian refugees returned to their land.

The representative of the League of Arab States said, until the Palestinian people fulfilled its right to self-determination and became a viable State on its own soil, it would reflect the international responsibility for the Palestinian question. The Palestinian Territories might well be turned into a disaster zone with consequences that would not be limited to the Palestinian Territories. The decision of the international community and donors to stop aid to the Palestinian Authority had worsened the crisis. It amounted to collective punishment of the Palestinian people for voting in democratic, free and fair elections and was a flagrant violation of all international resolutions. The international agencies could not provide basic necessities for Palestinian civilians. That was the responsibility of Israel, the occupying Power. The decision to stop international aid would lead to a rise in poverty among Palestinians. Drawing the borders by force and unilaterally was an open invitation for continuing the conflict. He appealed to the Quartet to take immediate action to stop the Israeli aggression and to respect the wish of the Palestinian people demonstrated in free elections. He urged the international community and regional parties to support the revitalization of the Road Map and taking into consideration the Arab peace plan.

The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference said the Palestinian people were living under occupation as a fait accompli. Fertile lands continued to be confiscated. The Israeli authorities had isolated the city of Jerusalem and deprived worshippers from reaching their churches and mosques. All of those measures had been condemned. The Israeli practices had left the Palestinian economy on the brink of collapse. The elections had been free and fair and the people’s will must be respected. The economic embargo on the Palestinians contradicted humanitarian and international law. He called on the international community to make efforts to end the rapidly increasing deterioration and to extend urgent and financial assistance. The only way to stop the deterioration was to end the conflict and return to the peace process. There had to be a just solution to the problem of refugees and enabling the Palestinian people to achieve their right to self-determination. The success of international efforts depended on the achievement of those points.

The representative of Indonesia said the outcome of the Palestinian democratic process ought not to be used as a pretext by countries to cease economic and financial assistance to the Palestinian people. He expressed concern at the failure of repeated efforts to revive the peace process. He was also concerned by the escalating military campaigns launched by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories in the last few weeks. In violation of the Road Map, Israel had embarked on the construction of the separation wall. More and more Palestinian land had been confiscated by the Israeli Government. Together with other Israeli policies, which included military incursions and closures, curfews and extrajudicial killings, the construction of the separation wall divided Palestinians and their lands and inflicted on them adverse living conditions. He called on the Security Council to ensure that that situation was corrected and looked forward to the completing by the Secretary-General of the framework for the establishment of a register of damage relating to Israel’s construction of the barrier. It was important not to underrate the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people. The Seminar must establish how the international community could move swiftly to deal with the suffering of the Palestinian people. He called on the international community to keep an open mind. He hoped that the Secretary-General and concerned agencies could mobilize a coordinated response from the international community.

The representative of Malta said an important aspect of the Committee seminars was to maintain a constant awareness within the international community of the intolerable humanitarian, economic and social situation which Palestinian people had been suffering for decades. It highlighted and examined the issue of Palestinian rights in the context of international law and had been mandated to act in a factual and moderate manner within the framework of a peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine provided by relevant United Nations resolutions. Malta, in common with its European Union partners, reaffirmed its support of a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leading to the emergence of an independent, democratic, viable and contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel. The international community was responsible for persuading both Israel and the Palestinians to abide by the provisions of the Road Map. He hoped Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would maintain his readiness to sit with the Palestinian President at the negotiating table. The new Palestinian Government still needed to commit itself to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist in a two-State solution, and acceptance of existing agreements. At the same time, the Israeli Government needed to end immediately its actions like settlement activities and construction of the separation wall and to meet existing agreements and understandings.