Press Releases

    GA/SPD/332
    3 November 2005

    New Leadership of UNRWA Has Led to Better Working Relationship, Delegate of Israel Tells Special Political Committee

    As Debate on Agency's Work Continues, Others Say Situation of Palestinians Has Worsened; Delivery of Services Hampered by Restrictions

    NEW YORK, 2 November (UN Headquarters) -- Under the leadership of the new Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Karen Koning AbuZayd, there was already an improved dialogue and working relationship with that Agency, the representative of Israel told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon.

    He said that arising from the belief that stimulating the economic growth of the Palestinian economy was integral to the stability of the region, assistance to the Palestinian people was an important part of Israeli policy.  Even during the month-long disengagement operation in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defence Forces had made extensive efforts to avoid disrupting the work of the UNRWA. 

    However, he said, notwithstanding the Israeli initiative, the situation on the ground continued to be difficult for all.  Israel still confronted a concerted terrorist campaign.  UNRWA had recognized Israel's right to self-defence and Israel respected its obligations towards UNRWA.  Nevertheless, limitations must be placed occasionally on the movement of goods and individuals. 

    He said the annual debate on the UNRWA provided a regular venue for the utterance of high rhetoric and hyperbolic sympathy for the suffering of the refugees on behalf of Arab colleagues.  Yet, at their core, their statements were hollow.  Not a single Arab country was prepared to spend any more than a miniscule part of its oil revenues in order to help alleviate the plight of the Palestinian refugees.  "The Palestinian are not our enemies; they are our neighbours", he said.  Both Israelis and Palestinians deserved to live in security and peace; both peoples' suffering was a humanitarian problem and both peoples' rights to self-determination must be respected.

    Other speakers said that the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territories since September 2000 had been deteriorating, something that had been aggravated by the construction of the separation wall by Israel.  That wall, where it was constructed on Palestinian territory, and checkpoints and closures, hampered the capacity of UNRWA to deliver services.  They called on Israel to cease activities that were impeding the Agency's work.

    Some delegates noted with concern the decreasing response of the international community to UNRWA's appeal for assistance and the resulting under-funding and severe budget shortfall of the Agency.  The representative of Bangladesh drew attention to the fact that the Agency continued to promote income-generating activities, particularly through self-sustaining, market-oriented microfinance and microenterprise programmes. 

    Turkey's representative said the disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip was a significant step towards achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  However, despite an early glimpse of hope for cooperation between the parties in the aftermath of the withdrawal, the situation remained fragile, as illustrated by a recent terrorist attack in Israel which had claimed innocent lives.  While unequivocally condemning all acts of terrorism, he said, his country was equally critical of improper and harsh retaliatory measures.

    Speaking for the European Union, the representative of the United Kingdom expressed deep concern at the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and called on the Israeli Government to cease demolitions and take urgent action to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, in particular of Palestinian refugee children. 

    She said the European Union condemned the violence perpetrated by Palestinian militants and said the Palestinian authority must do its utmost to take all necessary steps to take full control of security in the Gaza Strip.  While recognizing Israel's right to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, the Union called on Israel to act with restraint and to refrain from all extra-judicial killings.  It also urged Israel to reverse its settlement policy and to freeze all settlement activity.

    In her closing remarks, Ms. AbuZayd, expressed thanks to delegations for their support of UNRWA, and pointed out that while Arab States did not contribute a great amount to the base budget of UNRWA, they made many donations to UNRWA projects. 

    The representatives of India, Japan, Bahrain, China, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Qatar and Unites States also spoke, as did the Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. 

    The Permanent Observer of Palestine spoke in right of reply.

    The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 7 November, to begin its consideration of the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

    Background

    The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the world of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  (For further background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/331 of 1 November.)

    Statements

    RAN GIDOR (Israel), welcoming the newly appointed Commissioner-General, said that under the leadership of Karen Koning AbuZayd there was already an improved dialogue and working relationship with UNRWA.  Arising from the belief that stimulating the economic growth of the Palestinian economy was integral to the stability of the region, assistance to the Palestinian people was an important part of Israeli policy.  Even during the month-long disengagement operation in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defence Forces had made extensive efforts to avoid disrupting UNRWA's work.  The agency's report under consideration, referred to circumstances that had since been altered dramatically.  The report might very well be the last of its kind.  There was no longer a scapegoat around to blame for every hardship, and it was now the duty of the Palestinian Authority to boost its nation-building efforts.

    He said that notwithstanding the Israeli initiative, the situation on the ground continued to be difficult for all.  Israel still confronted a concerted terrorist campaign.  The Palestinians were struggling to lead normal lives, while terrorist organizations exploited the weakest of them for their own murderous aims.  But it was in the interest of all that the UNRWA maintained neutrality and impartiality at all times, while fulfilling its important mandate.  The duty to assist one party to a conflict should not necessitate ignoring the other party's legitimate perspective.  The report lacked a presentation of the context in which UNRWA activities were carried out.  During the period covered, Israel had to endure no fewer than 2,000 incidents of terrorism.  

    The UNRWA had recognized Israel's right to self-defence and Israel respected its obligations towards UNRWA, he said.  Nevertheless, limitations must be placed occasionally on the movement of goods and individuals.  Unfortunately, security demanded limiting certain activities.  The report's omission of a relevant contextual background was, therefore, surprising.  There had been several cases of "severe strife" (to borrow UNRWA's term) around the world, such as in New Delhi, London, Madrid, Istanbul, Bali and New York.  No one had challenged the right of the Indian, British, Spanish, Turkish, Indonesian and United States Governments to protect their citizens.  Why then was Israel expected to allow its citizens to be targeted without doing all it could to fight the scourge of terrorism, he asked.

    He said UNRWA's dialogue with the Israeli authorities had considerably improved in recent times.  The UNRWA's team had been displaying a more constructive approach towards Israel's concerns.  "We are not beyond criticism and there is always scope for improvement", he said.  Israeli officials at all levels had been continuously available to meet and coordinate matters with UNRWA.  Israel remained committed to such coordination, even in times of increased security alert and widespread military activity.  He equally expected UNRWA to rise up to the challenges that had confronted it of late.  Israel supported the humanitarian mandate of UNRWA and its practical execution on the ground and every day arrangements were being made at the border crossings to smooth the passage of UNRWA vehicles and personnel.

    The annual debate on the UNRWA report provided a regular venue for the utterance of high rhetoric and hyperbolic sympathy for the suffering of the refugees on behalf of Arab colleagues, he said.  Yet, at their core, their statements were hollow.  Not a single Arab country was prepared to spend any more than a miniscule part of its oil revenues in order to help alleviate the plight of the Palestinian refugees.  All people should be able to exist in security and in peace, with standards of living befitting the principles of universal human dignity.  "The Palestinians are not our enemies; they are our neighbours", he said.  Both Israelis and Palestinians deserved to live in security and peace -- both peoples' suffering was a humanitarian problem -- both peoples' rights to self-determination must be respected.

    K M KADER MOHIDEEN ( India) expressed his delegation's concern at the on-going conflict in the Middle East.  He said the violence that had beset the region since September 2000 had claimed several thousand lives and inflicted physical and psychological scars.  The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territories had been further aggravated by the construction of the separation wall by Israel.  This remained a source of deep concern for the international community.  The wall's encroachment on Palestinian land created great hardships for the people affected by its construction, and exacerbated an already fragile situation.  Continued construction of the wall threatened to prejudge the eventual outcome of the final status negotiations between the parties.

    An area of continuing concern to his delegation, he went on, was the restriction in the freedom of movement of UNRWA staff members.  Regrettably, the environment in which the Agency carried out its operations continued to hamper its ability to deliver services.  Of equal concern was that these restrictions had had a serious impact on UNRWA's ability to move staff and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.  Closure and blockades had to be lifted and there should be unhindered access to humanitarian supplies.

    TAKEOMI YAMAMOTO ( Japan) said there was now an opportunity to advance the Middle East peace process and his Government had actively engaged itself in that undertaking with high-level visits to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and with invitations to both Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas to visit Japan.  Japan's Prime Minister had expressed his country's support for the efforts of President Abbas for peace and had requested that he continue to take steps to control extremists.  The Prime Minister had also announced his Government's intention to provide $100 million in additional assistance.  He said assistance to Palestinian refugees through UNRWA, as well as assistance to Palestinian non-refugees, was an important part of his country's efforts for the Middle East peace process.  He gave examples of such assistance.

    He said as one of the major donors to UNRWA, his country was paying close attention to the Agency's management of its budget and operations.  It expected UNRWA to ensure transparency in its management and administration, and the most efficient possible utilization of its resources.  Reform of UNRWA would lead to confidence-building between UNRWA and donor countries.  In light of the situation in the Middle East, UNRWA continued to play a vital role in the region.  Japan therefore reiterated its strong commitment to, and support for, the activities of UNRWA and hoped that the international community as a whole would also remain committed to supporting those activities.

    TAREQ MD. ARIFUL ISLAM ( Bangladesh) noted with concern the decreasing response of the international community to UNRWA's appeal for assistance and the resulting under-funding and severe budget shortfall.  In view of the deepening humanitarian crisis, the unabated depression of the Palestinian economy and the growing needs of the refugees, he said his delegation appealed to the international community to enhance their contributions.  It was a moral responsibility to help the Palestinian people towards the fulfilment of their just aspirations for a normal and peaceful life.

    His delegation was happy to know of the Agency's continued endeavour to promote income-generating activities, particularly through self-sustaining, market-oriented microfinance and microenterprise programmes.  It was also encouraging to note the establishment of a comprehensive follow-up process by the Agency. to implement the major recommendations of the Geneva Conference held in June 2004.  His delegation welcomed the finalization of the Agency's medium-term plan, which would help identify priorities and mark out long-term strategies.  Also beneficial was the continued undertaking of UNRWA to improve its management and programme practices through implementation of its international reform programme.

    ERSIN ERCIN (Turkey) said his delegation deemed the disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip as a significant step towards achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and called upon both parties to utilize the momentum which the withdrawal had created, by taking the necessary steps to fulfil their respective obligations and commitments towards achieving the two-State solution envisaged under the Quartet's Road Map.

    Despite an early glimpse of hope for cooperation between the parties in the aftermath of the withdrawal, however, the situation remained fragile.  Just last week, another terrorist attack in Israel had claimed innocent lives.  Turkey unequivocally condemned all acts of terrorism, as well as provocation and incitement to violence, in the strongest terms.  Turkey was equally critical of improper and harsh retaliatory measures, however, and thus called on both parties to act with utmost restraint, so as not to reignite the ruthless cycle of violence.

    He said Turkey noted with concern the continuation of dire economic conditions, particularly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, due to Israeli policies of closures and other restrictive measures.  These not only impeded the daily lives of the Palestinian refugees, but also the activities of the Agency.  It was his country's conviction that the steady provision of UNRWA services was essential, and that security measures by Israel should not in any way hinder access to humanitarian assistance.

    FAISAL AL-ZAYANI ( Bahrain) paid tribute to the previous Commissioner-General of UNRWA, who had faced great difficulties in his nine-year tenure.  His brave attitude, he said, should be a source of inspiration to all.  The continuation of the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories after the intensification of the Israeli attacks since September 2000, had resulted in displacement of Palestinian people after the demolition of their homes, and in a continuing deterioration of the socio-economic situation.  The humanitarian crisis had been exacerbated by the operations of the Israeli Defence Force, including curfews, closures and closed military zones.  Such operations had divided the Palestinian community into isolated pockets and had hampered the humanitarian operation of the UNRWA.  The separation wall in the West Bank had resulted in new obstacles for providing basic UNRWA services to Palestinian families residing in the area between the wall and the Green Zone. 

    He said the funding gap of the UNRWA had been lowered over the past few years, thanks to innovative approaches by the Agency and an increase in contributions.  The new strategic plan of the Agency, for the period 2005-2009, would lead to improvement of the economic potential of the refugees.  He hoped that the Agency would be able to attract more finances in order to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees.  The problem of the Palestinian refugees was a political one, and part and parcel of the question of Palestine.  Since Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 1948 regarding the right of return of Palestinians had not been implemented, UNRWA had become a vital institution for Palestinian refugees.  It would remain so, until a resolution to the problem of Palestinian refugees had been reached, as well as a settlement of the question of Palestine in accordance with international agreements, relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.

    XIE YUNLIANG ( China) said that UNRWA had for many years played an important role in improving the situation of the Palestinian refugees and promoting security and stability in the region.  UNRWA had become an important symbol of the international community's commitment to the welfare of the Palestinian refugees, and UNRWA staff had carried out work in difficult and dangerous conditions at the risk of their own lives.  His delegation paid tribute to their dedication and sacrifice.

    He said UNRWA was currently suffering from a lack of funding.  His delegation hoped that the international community would increase its financial contributions and honour its commitment to UNRWA.  Many important events of great significance to the Middle East peace process had taken place this year, he said.  His delegation hoped that leaders from both sides would seize this historic opportunity to enhance mutual trust.  An early, complete and fair solution to the Middle East problem was the common aspiration for the people in the region, and China would continue to work with the international community to fulfil this desire as early as possible.

    NORZUHDY MOHAMMAD NORDIN ( Malaysia) said the Palestinian refugees were among the poorest and most easily affected by Israeli aggression.  Most disheartening was the continued and increased destruction of refugee shelters, rendering more than 16,000 Palestinian refugees homeless.  He called on Israel to desist from destroying Palestinian homes and property, and to ensure that the deterioration of humanitarian and socio-economic conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was reversed.  The separation wall continued to further aggravate the humanitarian and socio-economic conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The restriction had also had a serious impact on the freedom of UNRWA to move staff and humanitarian assistance to those in urgent need.  The international community must prevail upon Israel to take urgent measures to remove those restrictions. 

    He said the regular budget of UNRWA was crucial in order to enable it to implement its activities.  He stressed in that regard the importance of a steady and predictable growth in contributions to the regular budget.  He was concerned, however, that the level of response had stagnated.  Continued support to the UNRWA Emergency Appeal was crucial to the survival of the Palestinian refugees.  Donors were becoming increasingly reluctant to fund construction of new homes to replace those which had been destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force, since such contributions could be seen as making them complicit in the violations of international humanitarian law.  He appealed to Member States to enhance their contributions and called on UNRWA to continue to examine closely its programmes, priorities and needs. 

    NGUYEN DUY CHIEN ( Viet Nam) said that despite numerous difficulties and obstacles, UNRWA's work had continued to produce encouraging results in the implementation of its regular programmes, providing education, health, social services and microcredit assistance to Palestinian refugees.  For example, about 490,000 children had been enrolled in UNRWA elementary, preparatory and secondary schools in the 2004-2005 academic year; 19,766 loans worth $17.7 million had been provided to the refugees as a result of the commercial, self-sustaining and market-oriented microfinance and microenterprise programme; and cooperation between UNRWA and a number of United Nations programmes had been strengthened.

    He said the Agency's activities during the reporting period had been heavily affected by the instability and violence in the region, in particular military operations carried out by Israeli forces.  These operations had included the imposition of both internal and external curfews and closures, and the creation of closed military zones.  These operations had continued to have an adverse impact on the Agency's ability to carry out its humanitarian functions in support of the Palestinian refugees, thus severely affecting their daily lives because of loss of access to employment, income, and essential goods and services.

    CATHERINE BROOKER (United Kingdom), speaking for the European Union and associated States, said the European Union underlined its strong support for, and commitment to, the essential work of the UNRWA, and it expressed gratitude to the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, whose countries had been providing assistance to Palestinian refugees for over five decades.  The European Union was the largest contributor to UNRWA, with contributions in 2005 of more than 200 million euros.  The Union stressed the importance of revitalizing and energizing the Advisory Commission.  It expressed deep concern at the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and called on the Israeli Government to cease demolitions and take urgent action to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, in particular of Palestinian refugee children.  Israel should take no action that would aggravate the conditions of the Palestinian people.

    She said the situation on the ground had hampered the capability of all humanitarian operators, including UNRWA, to provide essential services.  The European Union urged the Government of Israel to ensure full and secure access for diplomatic and humanitarian personnel, as required by the principles of international humanitarian law and by the Road Map.  The European Union had expressed concern over the kidnapping of international and Palestinian aid workers, and called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure the safety of all foreign aid workers in Palestine.

    Regarding UNRWA's medium-term plan, she said UNRWA had developed fast-growing microfinance and microenterprise programmes, as well as a range of infrastructure projects to improve the living conditions of the refugees.  The medium-term plan focused on areas that would be crucial to promoting stability.  While welcoming disengagement as a significant step towards implementing the Road Map, she expressed the Union's concern at the escalation of violence in Gaza.  While recognizing Israel's right to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, the Union called on Israel to act with restraint, and to refrain from all extra-judicial killings.  It condemned the violence perpetrated by Palestinian militants and encouraged the Palestinian Authority to take all necessary steps to take full control of the security in the Gaza Strip. 

    She said the European Union urged Israel to reverse its settlement policy and to freeze all settlement activity, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to end land confiscations and the construction of the separation barrier on Palestinian land.  It remained particularly concerned by the settlement-building and the construction of the separation barrier in and around East Jerusalem.  The Union further reaffirmed its commitment to a negotiated two-State solution agreed between the parties, which would result in a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian State existing side by side with Israel in peace and security.

    ABDULLAH SAAD AL-QAHTANI ( Qatar) said that UNRWA should continue to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, until a just settlement in the peace process was achieved.  The UNRWA report contained a great deal of information underlining the difficulties that the Agency faced.  Those difficulties were impacting negatively on the Agency's ability to provide assistance to the Palestinian refugees, he said.  The Israeli Government should respect UNRWA's mandate and cease activities that were impeding the Agency's work. 

    The regular budget of the Agency was vital for its activities, but contributions received from donors in 2004 had not been sufficient.  It was important, he said, that the international community continue to produce greater contributions, so that UNRWA could carry out assistance to the Palestinian refugees in the areas in which it worked.  Furthermore, the Agency should explore new and innovative ways to expand its donor base. 

    MARGARET SCOBEY ( United States) welcomed the new Commissioner-General, the first woman and fellow American in that function.  Through its substantial financial contribution to the UNRWA, she said, the United States had demonstrated its enduring support for humanitarian relief efforts for Palestinian refugees.  She called upon other countries, especially countries from the region, to increase their contributions to UNRWA's core budget.  The Agency had an important role to play in supporting the efforts of the Palestinian Authority, and the Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement, to launch economic recovery and development in Gaza and the West Bank.  She welcomed the fact that UNRWA was responding to the recommendations called for at the high-level international conference that had reviewed UNRWA's operations in Geneva in 2004, and supported a decision on expanded membership for UNRWA's Advisory Commission.

    She said that during the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly, her country had introduced a resolution calling for continued support of Palestinian refugees and extending UNRWA's mandate.  Last fall, the Fourth Committee had made important progress in streamlining resolutions under the agenda item.  That should remain a goal for those who sought focused international attention on the financial requirements of UNRWA, and the assistance needs of Palestinian refugees.  She again called upon the Assembly to expedite the "clustering" of items -- biennializing and triennializing items where possible.  At this juncture, it was unnecessary to adopt additional resolutions on UNRWA, she said.

    YUSSEF F KANAAN, Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that Israel continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of UNRWA's personnel and on the Agency's vehicles and goods.  This hindered its operations in both the West Bank and Gaza, by seriously disrupting the provision of its services and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugees.  In so doing, Israel was in total disregard of its obligations under international humanitarian law and of the privileges and immunities of UNRWA as an organ of the United Nations.  He urged the international community to exert pressure on the Israeli Government to remove its restrictions on the movement of the Agency's staff, so that they could implement its emergency relief alongside its regular programmes.

    He said that in defiance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and General Assembly resolution ES-10/15, Israel continued to construct the "apartheid wall" in the West Bank, and in and around East Jerusalem.  UNRWA had noted in its report that the wall had already led to further impoverishment and isolation of refugee families living in its vicinity.  It had created new obstacles to the delivery of essential UNRWA services to the refugees, who were being cut off from agricultural land, places of work and centres for health, education and other services.

    UNRWA, in its Emergency Appeal 2005 Special Report, had pointed out that the Israeli withdrawal would have little immediate impact on the socio-economic condition in the Gaza Strip.  Poverty would remain endemic, as would unemployment levels, particularly among the under-30 age bracket, and the majority of the population would continue to require substantial external assistance to meet basic daily needs.  It was also a matter of great concern to learn from UNRWA's reports that the response of the international community for funds for emergency programmes had gradually decreased as the crisis had entered its fifth year.

    KAREN ABUZAYD, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), expressed thanks to delegations for their support of UNRWA, and pointed out that while Arab States did not contribute a great amount to the base budget of UNRWA, they made many donations to UNRWA projects. 

    Right of Reply

    The Permanent Observer of Palestine, exercising her right of reply, said the statement of the Israeli delegate was full of distortions.  It seemed an effort to absolve Israel of its responsibility for the suffering of Palestinian refugees, and was indicative of that country's denial of the historical and legal problems.  The danger of such arguments lay in the refusal to acknowledge Israeli responsibility.  Such an acknowledgment was the starting point for the solution of the refugee problem.  Israel must recognize its moral, legal and financial responsibility, something it had not done in spite of international resolutions.

    The facts on the ground were well-known and described in the report, she said.  The Israeli delegate had claimed that Israel was no longer in Gaza.  Not all Palestinian refugees lived in Gaza, which moreover, was still an Occupied Territory, a fact that Israel was denying.  The territory was still an Israeli responsibility, and the status of refugees in Gaza remained the same.  It had to be acknowledged that the responsibility of Israel for the refugees remained the same, and that it had the responsibility to protect them.

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