A two-day United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, which was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, today concluded its work after a thorough discussion on the prerequisites of Palestinian economic recovery and the role of the international community.
In his concluding statement, Papa Louis Fall, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and Chairman of the Seminar, said the Seminar had taken place at a critical moment when Israel and the Palestinians were showing signs of agreement on strengthening the political process and returning to the negotiating table. However, this should not blind anyone to the gravity of the socio-economic situation and the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Ambassador of Palestine to the United Nations, speaking at the closing meeting, which took place from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. today, said that the living conditions of the Palestinian people had deteriorated almost to the point of threatening the very fabric of Palestinian society. All this was due to basically two measures committed by the occupying power: first, the internal and external restrictions and the outright prevention of the freedom of movement of the people of Palestine; and second, the effective and extremely vast destruction not only of homes but also of agricultural land and Palestinian economic and industrial facilities.
At the opening of the Seminar, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), read out a message on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan in which he said that the answer to the Palestinian suffering lay in reaching a political solution through the performance of the steps required to implement the “Road Map”. The humanitarian emergency in the occupied Palestinian territory had been exacerbated by the tightening of the stifling regime of closures and curfews, as well as by continued settlement activity and the construction of a separation wall.
The Secretary-General urged the international community to continue and increase its support to the Palestinians to halt a downward spiral of social and economic despair, and to help them begin to climb a ladder towards restoration and development.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Fall said that conditions continued to deteriorate in the occupied territory despite efforts by the Palestinian Authority and international donors and humanitarian organizations which were working against enormous odds in utterly frustrating conditions of the occupation. He said the presentation of the Road Map and subsequent developments were just the beginning of a political progress that should culminate in the achievement of a permanent two-State solution to the conflict.
Three panel discussions were organized as part of the Seminar, with experts on the situation in the Middle-East offering statements, followed by interactive discussions.
Dimensions of Palestinian Economic Crisis
Participants in the first panel that dealt with the dimensions of the Palestinian economic crisis observed that the Palestinian economy, the leadership and the people were under total siege while Israel employed a number of mechanisms of control, with a comprehensive colonization programme over the Palestinian territory. This situation had continued, despite the Road Map. There was also a policy of apartheid, which had an utterly traumatic effect on the people and economy of Palestine. When the economic crisis was examined, the structural dimension of the relationship between Israel and Palestine was clearly unhealthy. Palestine was heavily dependent on Israel in many dimensions, not only infrastructural but also with regards to employment. The economy was suffering in several areas, notably the commercial sector, for many reasons.
It was also said that the right to food in the occupied territory had been seriously violated with many Palestinian households suffering from chronic malnutrition. Relevant documents, including from the World Bank, indicated the collapse of the gross domestic product of the Palestinian economy. Those who were working in Israel had been prevented from going to work, which had had serious consequences on the income of families. The poverty rate, which was 61.8 per cent of the population, had been on the increase, affecting many of the Palestinian people.
Priorities for Humanitarian and Economic Assistance
Panellists participating in the second panel discussion on the priorities for humanitarian and economic assistance to the Palestinians underlined the need to support the Palestinian Authority’s budgetary needs, to restore essential services in the occupied territories, to rehabilitate the physical infrastructure and agricultural land, to reduce unemployment and poverty, to alleviate the plight of refugees through the support of UNRWA, and to boost the recovery of the private sector. The first step for the recovery of the Palestinian economy was to get Israel to allow Palestinians to go and work in Israel again and to lift all travel restrictions. It was also stressed that the speedy implementation of the Road Map would result in immediate benefits for the Palestinian people, and, therefore, political progress needed to be equally implemented, as did efforts to ensure economic viability.
Speakers said that the policy of demolishing houses had inflicted a great loss of resources and properties upon the Palestinian people, and the international community was called upon to react to this.
Looking Ahead: Coping Strategies for Palestinian Economy
Under the theme “Looking Ahead: Coping Strategies for the Palestinian Economy”, the third panel addressed issues about the Palestinian perspective of the economic recovery, prospects for a longer-term economic development, the economy of an independent Palestinian State, and of donor strategies and assistance coordination. Experts also stressed that the international community had great responsibility to force Israel to adhere to international law, end the occupation, and implement United Nations resolutions to resolve the conflict. There was no substitute for political stability and control, which should be in place in order to build economic self-sufficiency and end dependency on foreign aid.
It was stressed that the only practical way to solve the economic crisis and promote economic recovery was not an economic strategy, but a political process that would end the Israeli occupation of 1967; ensure the return of refugees to their homes and land; remove the Israeli settlements and their effects including the apartheid wall; lead to the recognition of the Palestinian rights to sovereignty over their land and resources; free their economy from its colonial dependency on the Israeli economy; and provide a possibility for a peaceful and cooperative relationship based on mutual interests between Israel and Palestine.
NASSER AL-KIDWA (Ambassador of Palestine to the United Nations) expressed the thanks and appreciation of the people of Palestine to the participants. It had been an important and useful Seminar, and it was hoped that it would help to focus even more attention on the important issue of the pre-requisites of the Palestinian economic recovery. Once more it had become obvious that the Palestinian economy had been the subject of extensive destruction that took it almost to the point of standstill. The living conditions of the Palestinian people had deteriorated almost to the point of threatening the very fabric of Palestinian society, and all this was due to basically two measures committed by the occupying power: first, were the internal and external restrictions, the outright prevention of the freedom of movement of the people of Palestine; and second, the effective and extremely vast destruction not only of homes but also of agricultural land and economic and industrial facilities.
What was needed now was to intensify at several levels the assistance with regard to the humanitarian situation, basically to overcome the short and long run impact of all that had happened recently, including health and educational conditions. In this regard, the international community had to study seriously the issue of reparations. What was also needed was continuous support to the Palestinian Authority, including the budgetary allocation, as well as intensified efforts with regard to a more long-run development programme, which was the key to re-establish the Palestinian world. But, finally, there was a need to start looking seriously into reshaping and establishing a healthy economic relationship in the future between Israel and Palestine. There was belief that the basic nature of the problem had been identified as a political one, and that no real progress was expected in the field of economics without achieving political progress. The source of all ills remained the occupation, which had transformed into a colonial phenomenon. The first step towards peace could only be full cessation of Israel’s expansionist designs and its concomitant actions.
The Palestinians had continued to implement their reform programme, both before and after the presentation of the Road Map, and had done so in all spheres of government. Israeli attempts to interfere in internal affairs were absolutely unacceptable, and were seen by Palestinians as threatening and undermining national integrity, as well as political and national rights. The Palestinian government had consistently tried to give peace a chance in the face of consistent violations by the Israeli forces. Answers would be sought in the future to these crimes. There was hope that there would be a real beginning in the implementation of the Road Map in the near future on the Israeli side, and Palestine remained ready to implement its obligations both under the Map and under the provisions of international law and international humanitarian law. Palestine looked forward to receiving help from the international community and the United Nations.
PAPA LOUIS FALL, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and Chairman of the Seminar, said that now, more than ever, the Palestinian people were in urgent need for the assistance of the international community. The Seminar had taken place at a critical moment when Israel and the Palestinians were showing signs of agreement on strengthening the political process and returning to the negotiating table, however, this should not blind anyone to the gravity of the socio-economic situation and the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. The economy and infrastructure had been hard hit by almost three years of violence and destruction that had resulted in record unemployment, poverty, malnutrition and dismal living conditions, which was an environment which could not be conducive to the pursuit of peace. In this regard, the assistance and support of the international community in meeting the challenging humanitarian and economic needs of the Palestinian people was urgently needed.
Over the two days of the Seminar, he said, the experts had provided an overview of the economic and social crisis in the occupied territory, including Jerusalem. They had discussed ways of redressing the situation by focusing on priority areas for assistance. Ways and means of achieving economic recovery had been carefully examined. The exchange of views and ideas had been most insightful and productive, and there was no doubt that the deliberations had contained promising ideas that could be effective in mitigating current difficulties.
The Chairman then concluded the deliberations of the session, hoping that it had been insightful and informative, and that it would result in outcomes that were fruitful and effective in mobilizing assistance to the Palestinian people.