24 March 2010
United Nations Semiar on Assistance to the Palestinian People opens in Vienna with Expressions of Concern
(Received from a UN Information Officer)
VIENNA, 24 March - The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remained of concern, particularly in Gaza and East Jerusalem, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People in as it opened in Vienna.
Reporting on his recent trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said in a message read by the Deputy United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Maxwell Gaylard, that "the closure [of crossings into Gaza] is unacceptable, unsustainable and counter-productive." A durable solution required the opening of the crossings for both humanitarian and commercial goods to and from Gaza, with measures in place to end weapons smuggling. Palestinian actors must do their part by bringing an end to violence and rocket attacks and rising above partisan interests to pursue the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank.
The two-day Seminar under the theme "Building institutions and moving forward with establishing the State of Palestine" was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and aimed at raising the profile of and garnering support for the Programme of the Palestinian Authority entitled "Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State". The Seminar would also assess the current socio-economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory; discuss the urgency of bringing relief to the Gaza Strip; and look into ways of mobilizing broad international assistance in support of the Palestinian economy and alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people.
In this morning's keynote address, the Minister for Planning and Administrative Development of the Palestinian Authority, Ali Al-Jarbawi, said the Palestinian Government Programme reaffirmed Palestinians' explicit commitment to the two-State solution and the Authority stood ready to engage in final status negotiations, which should not be open-ended. The Plan was aimed at bringing real progress towards peace, recognizing that open-ended negotiations have not, and never would, bear fruit. "Palestinians cannot be coerced into co-existence with a fragmented State of leftovers - a State isolated by cantons separated by walls and checkpoints, guarded by soldiers of another State," he said.
The two-year Programme consisted of eleven national goals on the path to realizing the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Palestine, aiming to bring equality and social justice to all its citizens and guaranteeing equal rights, freedoms and opportunities for all, free from discrimination. Important progress had been made in implementing the Programme, he said, which clearly demonstrated the ability of the Palestinian Authority to govern and deliver services. "Just imagine for a moment what we Palestinians could achieve if freed from the shackles of occupation. And imagine the frustration that we Palestinians feel at being denied the freedom to control our own destiny for so many decades," he said.
He hoped that the international community would step up its condemnation of Israeli actions that continued to take Palestinians backwards, saying, "Despite the apparent determination of Israel to continue to hold on to occupied Palestinian land and resources, my message to you today is that there is a willing and proactive Palestinian partner for peace."
Opening statements were also made by Johannes Kyrle, Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of Austria, the host country, and Zahir Tanin, Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations in New York.
Statements were also made by representatives of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Iran, Morocco, Syria and Algeria. The Observers of the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African Union also spoke, as did a representative of the United Nations Environment Programme.
In a message of welcome, JOHANNES KYRLE, Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of Austria, said the Seminar was dedicated to the crucial challenge of institution-building and establishing the Palestinian State, a task which also lay at the heart of the European Union. No peace, no security, no prosperity would ever be sustainable without democratic public institutions, based on the rule of law and complemented by civil society participation.
He said that through the Quartet, the international community had once again reconfirmed its unwavering assistance to the establishment of the State of Palestine. It had expressed its support to the Palestinian Authority Plan "Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State", which aims at finalizing the process in 24 months. That was also the time period the Quartet deemed appropriate for coming to a negotiated settlement that would end the occupation which began more than 40 years ago.
He called on Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to re-engage in negotiations as soon as possible and in good faith. The Secretary-General of the United Nations had praised the quiet courage of the Palestinians and had called on them to choose the path of non-violence, unity and international legitimacy during his recent visit to the Gaza Strip, the one area with the most painful contradiction between the legitimate aspirations of a people and the failure of political efforts to improve their living conditions.
Austria and the donor community would assist the Palestinian people in realizing their aspirations and offer full political support to all efforts towards a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something which would benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike and which would be the basis for a stable and prosperous Middle East, he said.
In a message delivered by MAXWELL GAYLARD, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON reported on his recent tour of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel following a meeting of the Quartet Principals in Moscow, where the Quartet had reiterated its strong commitment to the two-State solution and the need for resumed negotiation to move quickly to achieve that goal.
He said the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remained of concern, particularly in Gaza and East Jerusalem. In Gaza, reconstruction of destroyed and damaged buildings and infrastructure remained nearly impossible due to the Israeli closure. He had informed the people in Gaza that the Government of Israel had approved a number of United Nations civilian recovery projects involving water and sanitation, the repair of a flour mill, the provisions of containers to temporarily accommodate schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the completion of a United Nations housing project, among other things. That package of recovery projects, however, represented only a first step.
He said, "The closure is unacceptable, unsustainable and counter-productive." A durable solution required the opening of the crossings for both humanitarian and commercial goods to and from Gaza, with measures in place to end weapons smuggling. Palestinian actors must do their part by bringing an end to violence and rocket attacks and rising above partisan interests to pursue the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza, he said he had called publicly for a prisoner exchange so that the missing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and Palestinian prisoners could be released.
While Israel's policy of settlement restraint was a step beyond previous Governments' positions, he said he had conveyed to Israel's leaders that settlements were illegal under international law and that the Roadmap called for a full settlement freeze, including in East Jerusalem. He had also expressed concern at such activities as an announcement concerning holy sites in the West Bank and provocative actions in East Jerusalem such as evictions and home demolitions as well as the advancement of plans for new settlement construction. "At this critical juncture, all sides need to observe calm, show restraint and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric," he said.
He welcomed Palestinian efforts towards reform, institution-building and development under the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad aimed at establishing a Palestinian State. "It is vital that the Palestinian Authority continue to advance this State-building agenda while striving to meet its other Roadmap obligations in full, including an end to incitement against Israel," he said. He encouraged key contributors to Palestinian State-building to channel their assistance through the Palestinian Authority's single treasury account.
Palestinian reform efforts had contributed to an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.8 per cent in 2009, he said. Israel's lifting of restrictions and easing of movement also represented a positive step in encouraging growth in the West Bank. A further easing of restrictions that increased the predictability of movement and facilitated trade would be central to ensuring future economic growth.
The Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan), underlined that the Seminar would focus on the Programme of the Palestinian Authority, entitled "Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State," also known as the Fayyad Plan.
That Programme called for Palestinians to unilaterally build - within 24 months - the administrative, economic and institutional foundation of an independent State in spite of the Israeli occupation and as a peaceful, constructive means to countering it. The Programme might be understood as the Palestinian answer to Israeli settlement-building by creating unilaterally positive facts on the ground that would restructure the strategic equation. The fundamental difference was that, unlike Israel's settlement activity, the Palestinian Authority's programme was consistent with international law. The Plan would promote, rather than hinder, prospects for a peace agreement.
Mr. Tanin said that the Plan's success would be determined by the measure of progress in the political area. At the international level, support needed to be built for the broad recognition of an independent Palestinian State. After the projected two years, that recognition could be enshrined in a Security Council resolution that would clearly determine the borders of the Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 lines.
Noting that there was a nexus between the search for a political solution to the question of Palestine and its socio-economic underpinnings, he said that in the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation had been steadily worsening as a result of the Israeli military offensive and the continuing blockade which prevented reconstruction. In the West Bank, Palestinian access to land and resources continued to be severely impeded by a multi-layered system of restrictions. The situation in East Jerusalem also continued to deteriorate, with thousands at risk of eviction, house demolition and/or displacement.
In conclusion, Mr. Tanin reaffirmed the Committee's position that the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory must end without conditions, which should allow the Palestinian people to establish an independent State on all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination. The two-State solution should be based on Security Council resolution 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003) and 1850 (2008). Only serious and sustained international engagement would bring about a negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues and reverse the growing support for radical forces.
ALI AL-JARBAWI, Minister for Planning and Administrative Development of the Palestinian Authority, stressed that the Palestinian cause was not a humanitarian or a development cause, but a political cause par excellence. Conveying his thanks for the sustained financial support from the international community, he said that, as Minister of Planning, he could not do much planning because of Israeli actions.
He said that, in cooperation with donors, he was working on some 48 projects, ranging from $1 million to $1 billion yearly¬. He was particularly grateful for that support, as it came within the framework of support for the Palestinian cause. It was essential that assistance to the Palestinians basically lay in a straightforward process consisting of ending the occupation and building a Palestinian State. If that goal was not reached quickly, the details would remain unimportant.
Statements by Representatives of Governments and Intergovernmental Organizations
IL CHUL RI (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said that many countries were calling upon the United Nations and the international community to end at once the Israeli atrocities in the Gaza Strip, take effective measures to protect Palestinian civilians and provide the necessary assistance to them. Israel, however, was expanding settlements and demanding a conditional peace treaty. The reason why the Palestinian problem continued to remain unresolved lay in the complicity of the United States and a few other countries with the Israeli occupation. Israel must immediately stop all its actions aimed at permanent occupation, including military operations, air strikes, settlement construction and the economic blockade.
ISHAYA EL-KHOURY (Lebanon) said his country had left no stone unturned in promoting the Palestinian cause as it had suffered along with the Palestinian people because of Israeli actions and was still harbouring Palestinian refugees. All initiatives to alleviate the situation in the Gaza Strip could not be implemented as Israel blocked all moves. He invited donors to enhance their contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which had difficulties in providing assistance to refugees in camps in host countries and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
He said the Israelis had rejected the Arab Initiative and continued their policy of illegal settlements, isolating Arab villages and towns in order to void the Arab or any other initiative. The main challenge was to speak out about the thousands of Palestinians threatened by bombing. The United Nations should help Palestinians achieve a decent standard of living by stressing the need to implement international resolutions fully in order to establish a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
HARALD EGERER, Head of the Vienna Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the hostilities in the Gaza Strip had severely damaged the environment in Gaza. A UNEP expert team had been deployed to the Strip to draw up an assessment of the environmental impact of the conflict. The UNEP Governing Council had requested UNEP to help implement the recommendations of that assessment report and had invited Governments and international institutions to provide financial and other support.
He said that UNEP activities in the Gaza Strip included: providing safe water to all infants; compiling a report on key groundwater issues; and developing a hazardous waste management strategy for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Projects for 2010-2011 included: development of a national water quality monitoring system; development of a national land management strategy; preparation of the State of the Environment Report; and identification, development and implementation of a renewable energy programme.
ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH (Iran) said that the continuous crisis in the Middle East came from the silence of the international community on the issue of occupation of the Palestinian Territory and the ignoring of its peoples human rights. The problem of the Middle East was a lack of awareness of the root causes, including the refusal of Israel to comply with any international obligations. Although Iran was demanding the end of the occupation, it believed that resolutions of international organizations could not fully restore the rights of the Palestinian people as long as the defiance of Israel continued, supported by its allies, in particular the United States.
He said that Israel, supported by the United States at any price, had no genuine political will to help the Palestinians achieve a dignified life. The commitment of the United States was "rock solid and enduring forever", according to the United States Secretary of State. Iran had proposed a democratic plan to solve the issue of Palestine, which included the return of refugees and the holding of a referendum among the people of Palestine, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, on the future of the country.
The Minister for Planning and Administrative Development of the Palestinian Authority, ALI AL-JARBAWI, said the Palestinian Government Programme reaffirmed Palestinians' explicit commitment to the two-State solution and the Authority stood ready to engage in final status negotiations, which should not be open-ended. The five-year interim period of the Oslo Accords had expired five years ago, but facts on the ground made a viable State impossible. If more time passed, the two-State solution would be impossible to achieve. The Palestinian Authority had given itself two years to establish the institutions for a Palestinian State where Palestinians could live and work without fear of violence and would be protected from violations of human rights.
He said the Plan was aimed at bringing real progress towards peace, recognizing that open-ended negotiation have not, and never would, bear fruit. "Palestinians cannot be coerced into co-existence with a fragmented State of leftovers - a State isolated by cantons separated by walls and checkpoints, guarded by soldiers of another State," he said. The Palestinian Government Programme consisted of eleven national goals on the path to realizing the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Palestine. The aim was to bring equality and social justice to all Palestinian citizens and to guarantee equal rights, freedoms and opportunities for all, with freedom from discrimination.
In Gaza, he said, the Palestinians sought an immediate end to the siege so that essential work could begin to lift Gaza out of its current state of poverty and desperation. The Programme was also committed to closing the gap in development and human security that had opened up between the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as well as to the restoration of Jerusalem as a city of peace, worship and tolerance. Israel continued to execute a systematic campaign to alter the geographic, demographic and cultural character of Jerusalem and to cut it off from the remainder of the West Bank. That campaign must be brought to a halt immediately and be reversed in order to make the two-State solution viable.
The programme attached great importance to building positive relations with the international community and building a State of Palestine that would be a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East. It wanted to build a self-sufficient Palestine which, rather than being dependent on external aid and support, was able to make a real and significant contribution to political, social and economic life in the region and around the world.
The Palestinian Authority had made important progress in implementing its Programme, he said. Progress was being made in modernizing the legal framework in order to create an enabling environment for sustainable economic growth. Efforts to join the World Trade Organization were just one example of the preparatory work. The Palestinian Authority was also building partnerships with the private sector. The provision of basic social services was performing well relative to other countries in the region and around the world. Efforts were also being made towards improving infrastructure to ensure that all citizens - irrespective whether they lived in the so-called Area A, B or C - had access to roads, electricity and water networks.
He said that great strides were being made in developing efficient, effective and accountable policing services, which had already brought a welcome sense of security and stability. Legal frameworks were being reformed to ensure that the security services protected and served the citizens, while respecting their democratic rights and freedoms. The results were remarkable given the context, in which the Israeli Army restricted the movement of police, judges and civil servants.
Those achievements had clearly demonstrated the ability of the Palestinian Authority to govern and deliver services, he said, continuing, "Just imagine for a moment what we Palestinians could achieve if freed from the shackles of occupation. And imagine the frustration that we Palestinians feel at being denied the freedom to control our own destiny for so many decades." The illegal occupation must end. There was no real need to wait for two years as the Palestinian Authority was ready now, but during that period the Authority would continue to implement its programme in order to be ready to reverse the decades of "de-development" suffered under the occupation.
He hoped that the international community would step up its condemnation of Israeli actions that continued to take Palestinians backwards. The recent decision to construct 1,600 new houses for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem was just one recent example. Settler violence against Palestinian civilians continued unchecked and unpunished.
He said, "Despite the apparent determination of Israel to continue to hold on to occupied Palestinian land and resources, my message to you today is that there is a willing and proactive Palestinian partner for peace." The Programme was born of hope, not frustration.
Continuation of Statements
MIKHAIL WEHBE, Observer of the League of Arab States, said the Palestinian people were still deprived of their legitimate national rights and there were daily aggressions against the Palestinian people through the cruel blockade and the continuation of settlement construction. Israel was still perpetrating war crimes against the Palestinian people. It was ironic that the international community merely made lukewarm declarations about Israeli settlement policies, even though they were a stumbling block to any Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Other stumbling blocks included Israeli action in East Jerusalem .
He underscored the Arab commitment to support the Palestinians in their efforts to establish a Palestinian State according to the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Any further Israeli actions should be brought to a halt before any more negotiations could be undertaken. Should the Israeli practices continue, all initiatives were doomed to fail. The issue of East Jerusalem should be brought before the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice. He called for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to address the conflict in all its aspects, hoping that the right of veto would not be exercised. It was high time for the international community to move forward and change its position with a view to taking practical international measures whereby Israel would be required to account for its crimes and perpetrators of war crimes would be brought before international courts.
SHAHER AWAWDEH, Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said Israel was violating international law and had increased its aggression in East Jerusalem in order to alter the city's Arab character. The complacency of the international community had caused Israel to act without any respect for international law, and the international community could no longer tolerate such arrogance.
He said the absence of a fair solution to the Palestinian question was a threat to international stability. The international community must do everything possible to stop Israeli violations and make it abide by all agreements and resolutions. The Organization of the Islamic Conference would welcome a compulsory mechanism to get Israel to conform to international will, by applying pressure including sanctions.
HASSAN LAOUAOUDA (Morocco) reaffirmed his country's commitment to support the Palestinian people and called for an end to the blockade against them. Morocco would work towards a peaceful, sustainable and fair settlement so that there could be an independent Palestinian State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital. As negotiations had reached a deadlock because of illegal Israeli practices in East Jerusalem, it was necessary to support the Palestinian position on the freezing of settlements with a view to begin final negotiations on the future of Palestine.
He condemned the decision of the Israeli Government to authorize construction of 1,600 settlement dwellings in East Jerusalem. That decision, he said, confirmed the strategy to isolate East Jerusalem from other Palestinian lands and separate it from any final solution.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said that, to assist the Palestinian people, there was a need to address the root causes of their suffering, namely the continuous occupation of Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan. Israel's constant expansion, with its ulterior motive to build facts on the ground, had led to the bloodshed of innocent people. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were living under a cruel blockade. The situation in East Jerusalem was worrisome. The continuation of illegal settlement construction and the immoral blockade in the Gaza Strip were destabilizing regional and international security. Not prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes committed against the Palestinians allowed for the continuation of illegal Israeli policies.
KHADIJA MASRI, Observer of the African Union, said the Commission of the African Union was highly concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a consequence of the siege of the Gaza Strip and restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Palestinians. She called upon the Israeli authorities to lift restrictions and open up all crossing points to begin the reconstruction process in Gaza. The human rights of the people of Gaza were being systematically trampled, but no investigations had been carried out to document the grave violations of human rights there. Despite all efforts of the international community to re-establish dialogue, the Israeli authorities were continuing their illegal activities regarding settlements, disregarding the peace process.
She said the African Union Executive Council had expressed its support for efforts to end the division among the Palestinian people. It had reasserted its belief that a lasting peace should involve the return of refugees and Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, including withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon.
TAOUS FEROUKHI (Algeria) said the escalation of the illegal occupation by Israeli authorities, through the seizure of goods and houses, destroyed any hope for a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel must end the destruction of Palestinian society and the denial of Palestinians' basic rights, she said. Algeria supported the Plan put forward by the Palestinian Authority towards establishing the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian State. She proposed that the Seminar send specific recommendations to the General Assembly and the Security Council.
* *** *