2. The Committee was represented by a delegation comprising Paul Badji (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee; Zahir Tanin (Afghanistan), Vice-Chairman of the Committee; Saviour Borg (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee; Angel Dalmau Férnandez, Ambassador of Cuba to Egypt, representing Cuba as the Vice-Chairman of the Committee; and Riyad Mansour (Palestine).
3. The Meeting consisted of an opening session, three plenary sessions and a closing session. The themes of the plenary sessions were “Current situation in the Gaza Strip”, “Looking ahead: identifying the most urgent humanitarian, reconstruction and development needs” and “Coordination of international efforts to provide relief and promote reconstruction”.
4. During these sessions presentations were made by 17 experts. Representatives of 68 Governments, Palestine, the Holy See, 5 intergovernmental organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 13 United Nations bodies, 15 civil society organizations and 33 representatives of the media participated.
6. He continued saying that Gaza was part of the future Palestinian State but it was still subjected to colonialism with Israel remaining in control of the Strip, including the movement of goods. Israel should therefore be made to fulfil its responsibilities and honour its obligations towards civilian populations under international law, including, above all, the Geneva Conventions of 1949. He stressed that it was necessary to open all the crossings on an unconditional basis. Blocking access for humanitarian needs represented collective punishment in violation of international law.
7. He urged Israel to resume the peace process and stressed that continued settlement-building activity threatened the two-State solution. The international community should pressure Israel to stop all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said the preconditions for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian State included building confidence, abandoning the policy of blockade and closure, opening the crossings, continued dialogue between the two sides and providing financial and economic support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to rebuild the economy.
8. He said that Egypt believed that peace could never be attained within the situation of conflict between Palestinian factions. For that reason, Egypt had intervened in an effort to facilitate the reconciliation among the factions. In conclusion, he called upon the international community to bear its responsibilities, in the implementation of international law, to put an end to the instability and conflict in the Middle East. The Arab stand was still manifested in the Arab Peace Initiative, with which Israel must collaborate.
9. Ban Ki-moon , Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a message read out on his behalf by his representative Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that recent hostilities in Gaza had complicated the political, humanitarian and socio-economic aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Thousands of Gazans had been killed, injured, dispossessed and displaced. Israelis had also suffered casualties and faced the future with fear and despair. He said that his conviction to end the occupation that began in 1967 was reinforced by what he had witnessed during his January visit to Gaza. But the recent developments should not be allowed to wipe out the progress that had been made towards peace. He called for a proper and durable ceasefire as soon as possible, which should pave the way for the reopening of all Gaza crossings based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) had embodied.
10. Reconstruction and development in Gaza would also require Palestinian reconciliation, he said, strongly urging Palestinians to find unity and common ground. He commended the efforts of the Egyptian Government acting as a facilitator among the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. The support of leaders in the region would be vital to bolstering any future agreements. He was hopeful that the incoming Israeli Government would honour earlier commitments, engage in political negotiations and conclude a peace accord with the Palestinians. He welcomed the generosity of donors at the previous week's International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza, stressing the critical need for contributions in support of the Palestinian Authority’s Gaza Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan to reach those in need as soon as possible.
11. In the West Bank, Prime Minister Fayyad’s efforts to improve security arrangements had borne fruit, the message said. Relative calm had prevailed even during the Gaza crisis. But Israeli raids continued; checkpoints and curfews were still present; and settlement activity had accelerated, with a 69 per cent increase in new structures in 2008 over the previous year. That went against Israel’s Road Map obligations. Action to meet those commitments was long overdue. He concluded by saying that only a permanent negotiated political settlement, which ended the occupation, could provide a sustainable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and lasting security for Israel. The United Nations would continue to do its part towards realizing the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
12. Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressed high appreciation to the Government of Egypt for hosting the Seminar and for its crucial role in support of the Palestinian people, citing the donor conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh and Egypt's role in the talks for a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian national reconciliation as the embodiment of that country's commitment to regional peace.
13. While past seminars organized by the Committee had dealt with a wide range of issues, including trade and investment, housing, capacity-building and institution-building, the focus of recent seminars had unfortunately had to shift back to the provision of the most basic needs to the Palestinian people, especially in the aftermath of the massive Israeli military onslaught in the Gaza Strip. The Committee was troubled that the Israeli invasion had been carried out with "a rather scant regard for human life", in gross contravention of international law and scores of United Nations resolutions. All those violations must be subjected to international investigations, and those responsible must be held accountable.
14. He also called upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take decisive action to uphold their obligation under article 1 "to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances". The international community should not allow any of its members to act above the law. The world should also not lose sight of Israel's continued blatant violations in the West Bank, which were overshadowed by the crisis of Gaza.
15. The immediate task of the international community was to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza to bring back some normalcy to their lives and to make the generous donor support pledged at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference a reality. First and foremost, the crossings into Gaza must be opened fully, so that international help could reach those in need. Israel should not be allowed to hold the entire Gaza population hostage to its political goals. The Agreement on Movement and Access of 15 November 2005 needed to be put to work. The Committee also encouraged the Palestinian factions to continue their dialogue towards internal reconciliation.
16. He explained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict required a political solution, first and foremost an end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights. The Committee considered it imperative that international assistance on the economic side would soon be followed by efforts to restart the political process between the parties, leading to serious negotiations on all the outstanding issues that prevented the solution of the question of Palestine. Sustainable development of the Palestinian economy would only be possible once the occupation had ended and the Palestinian people had become the master of its own destiny.
17. Zakaria El-Agha , Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and representative of the President of the Palestinian Authority, said that international assistance was regarded as the international community’s commitment towards the Palestinian people that had had helped them to face difficulties in the past six decades. The increasing burden on the Palestinians and the donor community was the direct result of the intentional policy and illegitimate actions by Israel, which had reversed the development process in the Occupied Territory, which in turn was hindered by closures and continued construction of the separation wall. Currently, assistance was needed to address the emergency situation following the recent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip. He stressed that it was important to change the conditions on the ground and give hope for a better future to the Palestinians. Practical steps were needed to give them prosperity and freedom and provide assistance and protection to children and civilians under occupation.
18. He said that, in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority had submitted a plan for the early recovery and reconstruction of Gaza, to which the donor community had pledged enormous assistance. He said he was reassured by that support and went on to express appreciation to the Government of Egypt for hosting the Conference and urged the implementation of the commitments made there. Those resources would allow the Palestinian authorities to provide help to the people affected by the conflict and to those living in poverty. To provide humanitarian assistance, however, all crossings must be opened, in compliance with the 2005 Agreement. All restrictions on the movement of goods and individuals between Gaza and the West Bank should be removed. Participants of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference had asked Israel to fully respect international law and refrain from actions that could have a negative effect on the lives of the Palestinians.
19. He reiterated that a tangible change in the situation in Gaza was needed, as well as measures to support the national economy and provide stability in the Strip. Fully aware of the importance of achieving unity among the Palestinians, he expressed appreciation for Egypt's mediation and reconciliation efforts. At the same time, the international community should demand from Israel that it take serious steps to halt all settlement activities and stop the construction of the separation wall, as well as appropriation of Palestinian land. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of the international community’s – including the Quartet’s – intervention to pressure Israel to implement the relevant international resolutions and to commit to the peace process based on a two-State solution. Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories should stop.
20. A keynote address was delivered by Karen AbuZayd , Commissioner-General of UNRWA. Ms. AbuZayd pointed out that the recent military operation in Gaza, the continued blockade of Palestinian Territory and the lack of movement and access deprived Palestinians from their inalienable right to enjoy a decent living free from inhuman and degrading treatment. Palestinians were deprived of the right to freedom of movement and the entitlement to a decent standard of living. In that regard, the human right to self-determination was an essential point of departure. In the Palestinian context, that right was frustrated by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Continuing occupation was the antithesis of a viable Palestinian State existing in peace and security with its neighbours.
21. She pointed out that the extent of civilian casualties during the recent conflict in Gaza had been evidence of the paucity of respect for the right to life. Palestinian and Israeli civilians had the right to be protected from the effects of armed conflict. There was a critical need for Israelis and Palestinians to exercise restraint, as required by international law, in their choice of methods and weapons. She said the 22-day unrestrained bombardment of Gaza had left Gazans traumatized. Aid dependency in Gaza was at an alarmingly high level. UNRWA was now feeding one million refugees in Gaza. The World Food Programme (WFP), responsible for non-refugees, had also increased its caseload in response to higher demand. The fundamental impediment to normal life in Gaza remained the closure of the borders. Israel had not yet fulfilled its promises to the international community to ease the blockade. She said Israeli authorities decreed what constituted a humanitarian aid item and what did not.
22. For the recovery of Gaza, she pointed to a clear path for action by United Nations agencies and other partners. UNRWA was coordinating with donors to bolster the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) nine-month consolidated Gaza Flash Appeal for US$ 613 million, which included the UNRWA component of US$ 326 million. She said there were plans to construct new schools and a teacher training college, rebuild the homes destroyed during the conflict, construct new clinics and rebuild existing ones. Those plans would become a reality for Gazans only if significant contributions already received were sustained and augmented by the donor community. Another essential precondition was securing a two-way flow of people, commerce, currency and humanitarian supplies.
23. She explained that ultimately the future of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, as well as the security of Israel and the Middle East, rested with the success of negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. She called upon the international community to promote reconciliation among Palestinians and secure the integrity of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The rule of international law must be upheld and impartially enforced, ensuring that all were held accountable and none were deemed above the law. In that connection, she suggested that the agenda of the Seminar should be approached from the point of view of fundamental rights and freedoms. Negotiations towards resolving all final status issues must resume in earnest, and it was important to create conditions in which a viable Palestinian State could emerge to take its place in the community of independent, responsible nations.
24. Statements were also made by representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organizations.
25. The representative of the League of Arab States delivered a statement by the League’s Secretary-General which stated that, despite the high number of casualties and the destruction of the infrastructure during the military operations in Gaza, Israel continued its closure policies, hindering the provision of humanitarian aid. It was time to put an end to Israel’s immunity. The Arab League would continue to pursue the issue of Israel's crimes. He welcomed the outcome of the International Conference in support of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip in Sharm el-Sheikh, but, he said, it was time to stop the vicious circle of destruction and reconstruction. Israel was not ready to end occupation or provide concessions. It should be clear to everybody that there was no room for negotiations while Israel continued building settlements and creating demographic facts on the ground in Jerusalem. In addition, Israel had not responded to the Arab Peace Initiative seriously. He expressed hope that the new United States Administration would play a positive role. He said the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers that was held on 3 March 2009 had pointed out that the Arab Initiative would not remain on the table for long. He reaffirmed that everything depended on Israel's readiness to implement its commitments. He opined that the new right wing Government in Israel did not believe in the two-State solution and opposed the end of occupation. He expressed hope that a Palestinian unity government would be set up soon and Palestinian elections would be held, welcoming Egypt's efforts to bring about reconciliation. He concluded by saying that after six decades, the question of Palestine was slowly approaching the moment of truth; unless the Arab countries and Israel reached agreement, the whole region would plunge into more violence and destruction for generations to come.
26. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, the representative of Cuba stressed that as long as the Palestinian question remained unresolved, tension would continue in the Middle East. The Movement called for the intensification of international efforts to promote a genuine peace process and ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. It called for the mobilization of international efforts, in particular by the Security Council and the Quartet, to ameliorate the situation on the ground and help advance the peace process that would guarantee the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within a specified time frame. He expressed the Movement’s concern at the continued deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a result of continued illegal policies and practices of Israel. Continuing, he commended the role of UNRWA and reiterated the Movement’s condemnation of the brutal Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. The Movement condemned the brutal attacks on Gaza that c onstituted a breach of international law and threatened international peace and security. In addition, it expressed concern over the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people. He said the Movement would continue to call upon Israel to open all crossings for free movement of people and goods, including humanitarian supplies. He also emphasized the responsibility of the United Nations, including the Security Council, with regard to the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine. He stated that the Council had once again failed to act effectively on the matter, and the Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement had issued a statement deeply regretting its unmet responsibilities. He concluded by reiterating the Movement’s commitment to easing the suffering of the Palestinian people until a lasting solution had been achieved.
27. The representative of Morocco stressed the importance of the Seminar as part of the efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in the aftermath of the latest conflict. He welcomed the outcome of the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, which reflected continued support of the international community to the Palestinians. His Government had pledged US$ 15 million to the Palestinian people and was keen on supporting the peace process. He reaffirmed that Morocco would support the Arab Peace Initiative, the Road Map and all other agreements leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State living side by side with Israel. A fund had been established in Morocco to collect donations in support of the Palestinian people.
28. The representative of the African Union emphasized the need to respond without further delay to the humanitarian crisis and reconstruction needs in the Gaza Strip. In January 2009, the Executive Council of the Union had strongly condemned the attacks launched by the Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip and urged the United Nations Security Council to carry out an investigation into the violations of human rights committed during those aggressions. It called upon the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, remove the apartheid separation wall and comply with United Nations resolutions in that regard. She said that the African Union had firmly denounced Israel's repressive practices and policies, demanding the removal of closures and blockades without delay, as well as the opening of all crossing points. She stressed that Israel must permit unobstructed supply of food and supplies to the Strip.
29. The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned the Israeli attacks on Gaza that had led to the deaths of over 1,300 civilians. Israel's aggression should be considered a war crime. Crimes and violations of humanitarian law required a follow-up to ensure that the criminals received a just punishment. He underscored the importance of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and called for financial and relief support, and stressed the need to accelerate the delivery of pledges made at Sharm el-Sheikh. He said closures made the provision of humanitarian assistance very difficult. He opined that the failure to effectively address the violations had had a negative effect on the situation in the region. He expressed hope that the new United States Administration would build on what had been achieved through the existing peace process mechanism, putting an end to the occupation and achieving the vision of a two-State solution.
30. The representative of the World Federation of United Nations Associations said that continued Israeli occupation was the root cause of the crisis in the Middle East. He opined that it was crucial to confront the aggressor to prevent further aggression and violations of international law. He stressed that it was important to stop the inhumane behaviour against the Palestinian people, who had a right to resist and fight against the occupation. To move towards peace, he concluded, it was important to create a climate that would be conducive to building confidence, and highlighted the importance of the role of the United Nations in that regard.
The current situation in the Gaza Strip
32. Mohammed Shtayyeh , President, Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction in Ramallah, said that Israel was not ready for an independent Palestinian State. It was delaying the establishment of the State by engaging in confidence-destruction measures instead of confidence-construction ones, including the fragmentation of Palestinian lands and the closure of Gaza. Those measures, combined with the recent attacks on Gaza, as well as checkpoints and closures, were impacting the Palestinian economy. He said that, according to some estimates, the latest conflict had taken the economy of Gaza 50 years back. Other statistics showed that 1.5 million Gazans were physically or psychologically affected by the recent attacks on Gaza.
33. Turning to the Sharm el-Sheikh donor conference, he said the estimates of the PA Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan of the direct damage to all aspects of the infrastructure in Gaza amounted to some US$ 1.9 billion. The human cost, however, could not be assessed. The loss of civilian life and the scale of destruction were particularly disturbing. With thousands made homeless and much of the population lacking electricity, heat or running water, the first objective should be the provision of shelters and ensuring adequate food supplies. Only then, could attention be turned to the removal of rubble, reconstruction of buildings and medical facilities, and reactivation of basic services. The plan had also linked the reconstruction of Gaza to the development process in order to prepare Gaza to take part in the establishment of a Palestinian State.
34. He said a number of prerequisites were needed for the reconstruction of Gaza. First was lifting the siege on the movement of people and goods, as well as on money transfers. Second, Palestinian reconciliation was needed in order for them to go to the international community with a single address charged with the management of the reconstruction of Gaza. The Palestinian institutions must take ownership of the reconstruction of Gaza with the support of the international community. Third, the funds pledged had to flow and be disbursed. He suggested that the several international mechanisms for the management of funds for the Palestinian recovery be replaced by a single mechanism that allowed the Palestinian Authority to manage the reconstruction of Gaza. He concluded by saying that the reconstruction of Gaza was a political issue, indicating that a few kilometres from the Seminar's site Palestinian factions were gathered to discuss reconciliation. He expressed the hope that they would heal the split in order to have one goal and unify the tools to achieve that goal. He said it was necessary to assure the international community that the infrastructure it had helped to build would not be destroyed again, emphasizing that the time was ripe to end the Israeli occupation.
35. Rosemary Willey-Al’Sanah, Field Coordination Unit Manager, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory based in Jerusalem, said that the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, should be seen as a whole. The international community was aspiring unity and statehood for the Palestinian people. Now, once again, Gaza had become the centre of attention, but that should not detract the international community, despite Gaza’s worthy need at this time, from recalling that the West Bank and East Jerusalem shared a different range of problems. She pointed out that in East Jerusalem house demolitions and displacement of people continued. She emphasized that the West Bank needed the attention of the international community more than ever, as settlement expansion, land confiscation, construction of the separation wall, closures, entrenchments and settler harassment continued to affect the lives of thousands of Palestinians. In addition to all those problems, the West Bank was experiencing a drought that was affecting Palestinian farmers.
36. She stressed that the blockade was severely affecting the humanitarian response in Gaza. Access to the area was very difficult. United Nations staff in Gaza faced a great challenge in trying to alleviate the suffering of the Gazans. With a predominantly young and poor population, 90 per cent of which depended on aid, the situation in Gaza represented a humanitarian crisis. For all security reasons, Israel had prohibited the entry of many staple items, including basic goods, fuel, cooking gas and cement. Among other things, the crisis was also affecting the injured and the ill, with no medicines coming in and no access to hospitals across the border. Gaza’s only access to the outside world was through the crossings and trade was the only source of income. However, the Erez crossing was closed in 2006, stopping workers and traders from commuting. Karni, for the movement of goods, and Rafah, for people and humanitarian assistance, were not always operational. The impact of the blockade was that 98 per cent of businesses in Gaza were now closed and more than 100,000 jobs had been lost. The lack of electricity and deterioration of water supply and water services could be attributed to the lack of spare parts.
37. She continued that, during the Gaza war, some 1.4 million people had been vulnerable and unprotected, highlighting that people had even been killed at UNRWA shelters. As a result of the conflict, some 1,400 people had been killed and the infrastructure shattered. Residential buildings, United Nations properties, UNRWA schools, Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for The Middle East Peace Process and OCHA offices and WFP warehouses were among the targets. The invasion had created an immense challenge in Gaza, including rebuilding structures and getting rid of unexploded ordinance, providing health services and psychological care. There was a compelling need to get raw materials and other basic things into Gaza before the international community could start repairing the damage that had been done. For OCHA to be able to spend the US$ 630 million that was considered to be the minimum needed to address Gaza's needs, it was necessary to have reliably open crossings and to ensure respect for human rights.
38. Husam Tuqan , Coordinator of medical care provided to Palestinians injured in Gaza and hospitalized in Egypt, Palestine Hospital, Cairo, said that 1,164 patients had been treated in different Egyptian hospitals, and provisions had been made for about 1,000 family members to accompany them. Most of them had now returned home, except for 364 patients who remained in Egypt, most of them with very serious injuries; 64 patients had died. He said some patients had such injuries that they had to be provided with wheelchairs and prosthetics. He concluded by appealing for help in rebuilding the medical facilities in the Gaza Strip and called for access for medical teams and medicines into the Strip.
39. Gerard Peytrignet, Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Cairo, said that ICRC's specific mandate in the field of international humanitarian law provided the framework for its work in situations of armed conflict. His organization had tirelessly reminded all those engaged in military operations of the need to fully respect the principles of caution and proportionality, to respect the work of the medical missions and facilitate the provision of neutral and impartial humanitarian aid to those in need. He opined that, following the blockade and the four weeks of Israeli military operations and devastating destruction, the situation in Gaza could be characterized as "dignity denied". He pointed out that 85 ICRC personnel working in Gaza jointly with volunteers of the Palestinian Red Crescent were directly engaged in a life-saving mission of providing emergency humanitarian assistance on the ground.
40. The international community was looking for the best way to proceed with reconstruction and development, even if violence may flare up again. While the ICRC did not have clear answers to these questions, it was clear that the generous multi-billion-dollar pledges made in Sharm el-Sheikh could not be utilized towards a sustainable reconstruction of Gaza and easing the lives of Palestinians unless concrete agreements and sustainable political solutions were reached, paving the way for the flow of aid. He said the situation in the Gaza Strip required assistance at many levels. Among the numerous problems facing Gaza after the attacks were the unexploded ordnance, large numbers of homeless people, large-scale loss of income, loss of farm land, destruction of medical facilities, as well as issues related to water, sanitation and electricity. He ended by saying that emergency assistance would not be enough for Gazans to get their lives back on track, emphasizing the compelling need for the movement of commercial goods into and out of the Strip.
41. Christine van Nieuwenhuyse , Country Director, World Food Programme (WFP) Office in Jerusalem, said that protracted use of coping mechanisms before the war and the additional shock of the war required rapid economic and material responses. WFP was assisting some 346,000 Palestinians through emergency and regular distributions and school feeding programmes. It was also coordinating access of trucks from 28 organizations. She said the recent military operations in Gaza had brought about human suffering by loss of life, substantial damage to the infrastructure, including extensive damage to agricultural land, livestock and poultry farms. The Gaza Strip was also suffering from loss of jobs and incomes due to the halt in private sector activities, affecting predominantly agricultural and casual workers.
42. She said there was decreased availability in red and poultry meat and eggs, which led to increased prices. Retailers and wholesalers had reduced their stocks of wheat flour and vegetable oils and families were purchasing less due to higher levels of humanitarian assistance, considerably dropping the sales level, both retail and wholesale. Describing the challenges ahead, she said that immediate and increased access to Gaza was crucial to any humanitarian efforts. All Gaza's borders must be opened and kept open on a regular basis, and humanitarian needs must be met. The Gaza Flash Appeal was only 28 per cent funded, and the WFP Operation was only 25 per cent funded. However, Gaza's huge needs should not overshadow the difficult situation in the West Bank, which remained affected by high food prices, unemployment and severe movement restrictions.
43. Ahmad Sourani , Director of Projects and External Relations, Agricultural Development Association, Gaza, stressed the importance of developing strategies to address the implications of Israeli land confiscation for the creation of the buffer zone in the Gaza Strip. That had led to the destruction of numerous water wells, deprived 15 per cent of Gaza farmers of their lands and destroyed about 50 per cent of animal constructions and livestock and other facilities in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip. It had also destroyed tens of kilometres of agricultural roads and delayed many relief and development projects and services. All that could have serious implications for the future of the Gaza Strip.
44. He warned that if the security buffer zone was not dealt with as a reality it could have serious implications and constitute a strategic threat to the economic and demographic future of the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip suffered from a lack of natural resources, especially water and land, which directly affected food security. Land was the only guarantee for any potential economic and agricultural development, especially in times of crisis, he said, calling for unified efforts to pressure the Israeli Government on the issue of the security belt. He called upon governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to take the situation very seriously, to develop an intervention strategy to be implemented through projects and programmes in order to reinforce and support farmers' steadfastness on their lands and to protect the limited natural resources.
46. Samir Abdullah, Minister for Planning of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, stressed the importance of ensuring Palestinian unity and said that following Israel's aggression against Gaza, numerous international agencies and NGOs had been working on the ground to alleviate the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians. He said that the donor's conference in Sharm el-Sheikh the previous week had responded to the UN Flash Appeal that was launched for an amount of US$ 613 million covering the coming nine months. At the conference, the Palestinian Government had introduced a National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza, which represented a general framework for reviving the economy of the Strip. That Plan placed emphasis on the efforts to revive and enable the private sector and paid particular attention to the situation of women and vulnerable groups. He said coordinating efforts was the first priority of the Plan. Other important priorities were ending the Israeli blockade, reviving the infrastructure, rebuilding housing, schools and hospitals, repairing water and electricity networks and improving the cash flow. The Plan envisaged programmes to deal with the damage, rehabilitate the land, improve the irrigation system, resume agricultural production and resume commercial activities. Bank loans and technical support were to be provided towards that end.
47. He emphasized the importance of efficiency and transparency in the financing of projects and said that the national expenditure played an important role in the reconstruction efforts, with a total of US$ 120 million spent in Gaza every month. That budget provided for the salaries of some 70,000 civil servants and support for 25,000 families. Notwithstanding those figures, the deficit in the national budget for 2009 amounted to US$ 1.15 billion. Following the aggression, additional resources were needed in the amount of some US$ 300 million for public expenditures. The national authorities were facing numerous needs. He expressed appreciation for the recent support that had been pledged but said it was important to disburse these funds in order to begin reconstruction. He said reconstruction needed the mobilization of all available resources especially those of the private sector. Finally, reconstruction could only take place in a peaceful environment under one Palestinian Government that enforced security and civil peace in order to strengthen national reconciliation.
48. Ghassan Kasabreh , Director of the NGO Development Centre (NDC) in Ramallah, said local and international human rights organizations had just started reporting about the utter devastation following Israel's assault. He discussed the results of assessments of initial damage and immediate needs in the Gaza Strip, which had been undertaken by various institutions. In addition, he elaborated on the outcome of a rapid needs assessment workshop, which the NGO Development Centre had conducted for some 50 Palestinian NGOs the previous week. The vast majority of NGOs had identified the unstable political situation and Israeli occupation among the main deterrents to their work. They had also stressed the importance of unity among Palestinian parties, coordination of efforts among all actors, as well as the need to find exit strategies and work in the context of both immediate needs and long-term development.
49. He explained that Palestinian NGOs remained the stabilizing force in the community, and any planning and efforts must include those organizations. Coordination strategies, while addressing early recovery needs, should plan to diminish dependency on humanitarian assistance, while putting in place the foundations for longer-term sustainable development. Civil society and the NGO sector were key players in complementing the necessary responses. He ended by quoting from a cooperation strategy of one of the Centre’s donor partners, saying that development cooperation and humanitarian assistance could only succeed when implemented in close link with political initiatives that sought to achieve peace, respect for international humanitarian law and human rights standards. Without such interaction this assistance ran the risk of serving as an excuse for the lack of political pressure on the part of the international community.
50. Jamie Balfour-Paul , Middle East Policy Adviser for Oxfam International in Cairo, looking at a few selected sectors and overall needs for the reconstruction in Gaza, assessed that there was a need to build 6,000 homes, repair 19,000 houses and 207 schools, remove 1.5 million tons of rubble and move Gazans from shelters to homes. At the moment, the focus was on providing plastic sheets, mattresses and blankets, but it was important to move towards construction. He said the agricultural land had been damaged and 90 per cent of the people depended on food aid. The central argument was how to shift from food aid to local production, increasing the input of live animals, animal feed and fertilizers. Some 1.37 million people in Gaza required food support; and 50,000 were waiting for the restoration of services; electricity needed to be restored to 150,000 people; and agricultural support should be provided to 14,000 farming and fishing families.
51. Turning to the water sector, he said during the recent attacks, nine wells and sewage pumping stations had been hit and one treatment plant completely bulldozed. The blockade had impaired the efforts by the Water Authority to import the necessary spare parts. Oxfam was trying to help get those spare parts. Moving on to the business sector, he said 1,500 businesses had been forced to close and factories and warehouses had been destroyed by Israeli raids. The number of trucks needed to enter Gaza on a daily basis, was estimated at 87 for food supplies, 53 trucks for non-food and 54 for construction material. What was needed was to completely lift the blockade, provide access to healthy food and produce, quality health services, proper education, and restart factories and businesses, as well as deliveries of fuel. The international community must exert efforts to end the blockade, demand the respect of human rights, free aid from politics, engage with all parties including Hamas, and establish the principle of non-repetition, ending the cycle of destruction and reparation and demand from Israel to pay compensation.
52. Cyril du Pré de Saint Maur , Regional Director for the Middle East of the Paris-based Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), said that the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA were the two main actors capable of efficiently implementing actions and delivering assistance for the relief of the population. At the same time, NGOs had a crucial role in identifying the gaps and ensuring that all the social needs were covered. Since the unilateral cease fire, the requested assistance across all sectors in the Gaza Strip were estimated at US$ 1.3 billion, including US$ 500 million for the infrastructure. According to the PA National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, some 100,000 people required immediate housing assistance. There was a need to move to reconstruction, but the main constraint continued to be the lack of access of building material into Gaza. He advocated a participatory approach which engaged local capacity in the implementation of projects, saying that the local capacity was ready to start construction as soon as the first truckload of cement was allowed in. Turning to water and sanitation, he said an estimated 50,000 persons had no access to water. Sewage networks had been damaged during the attacks, resulting in the release of raw sewage into the environment, which led to the spread of diseases.
53. In bridging the gap between emergency relief and reconstruction, it was important to have advocacy and a participatory and targeted approach. In recent interviews, food baskets' recipients had prioritized cash or employment over other kinds of distribution programmes. The projects that were identified by the local population were among the most successful. In the context of the recent crisis, the OCHA Logistics Cluster had proven to be an effective way of leveraging joint pressure to facilitate clearance for emergency supplies to enter Gaza. He also described ACTED's "poor families to poor families" programme involving distribution of fresh food commodities bought locally in Gaza. Under those conditions, there was an urgent need for all stakeholders to work together and build on lessons learned. It was also important to maintain a continuum between emergency relief and rehabilitation and reconstruction. Recovery plans should be flexible to adjust quickly to an uncertain environment. Finally, advocacy to end the blockade was key to the reconstruction of Gaza.
54. Patricia McPhillips , Special Representative of the United Nations Children's Fund for the Occupied Palestinian Territory in Jerusalem, said that 56 per cent of the population in Gaza was under 18 years old. Thus, the recent attacks in Gaza mainly impacted children. During the 22 days of conflict, children had accounted for roughly a third of the casualties: 431 children had been killed, and 1,872 had been injured. Many children had witnessed the deaths of caregivers, siblings and friends, which caused extreme psychological trauma. Hostilities in Gaza represented a unique case in that all border crossings had been sealed, leaving children and their families with nowhere to run to; there was no refuge from the violence. At the height of the conflict, virtually all the population was without electricity and half a million persons had no water. UNRWA alone was accommodating 51,000 people, amongst them 30,000 children.
55. She recalled her visit to Gaza with the UNICEF Executive Director the previous week where she had visited schools that had tents erected to accommodate extra students from nearby damaged schools, constituting a non-conducive learning environment. However, children were determined to move forward and normalize their lives. In order to support children and their caregivers, she stressed that it was imperative to open crossings for humanitarian supplies and workers. Urgent needs also included educational materials. The task ahead to address the needs of children was formidable, but it was not impossible. UNICEF would work with partners to create a protective environment for children. It would continue to promote and support education, which brought normalcy and hope back to children and communities. Particular attention would also be paid to youth and adolescence, providing them with a secure environment to develop into future leaders. Support would also be provided to health, nutrition and psychosocial support of the child and their caregivers. Closures and poverty were undermining the very core of childhood across the Palestinian Territory. An enduring peace would guarantee that the rights of the child were fully respected.
56. Husam Zomlot , Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, said in any post-conflict situation there were three transitional phases: security; democratic and socio-economic transitions. In the context of Gaza, the international community had been stuck for the past 15 years on socio-economic transition which had some ramifications. Based on the experience of the Oslo period, he assessed that the advent of Palestinian reconciliation and fruitful efforts by US Envoy George Mitchell to start the political process with Israel would not ensure the success of reconstruction efforts in Gaza. He cautioned against "rebuilding a rebuild" in Gaza. He asked whether a political process could resolve the problem without ending the 42 year-old Israeli policies and practices that aimed at reducing the Palestinian society from a vibrant nation with legitimate political aspirations to a humanitarian case and from economic development and prosperity to charity. But, that was exactly what was happening.
57. He suggested that any new international coordination system to be constructed for Gaza should be led by major world powers and multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations. Donor coordination mechanisms must define the parameters for peacemaking and be ready, willing and able to intervene when a party deviated or obstructed peacemaking efforts. Ultimately, donors could not afford to accept a nominal role and should be prepared to challenge aspects of agreements they deemed unsustainable. Israel should be held accountable for the destruction caused in the war. The international community must also enforce the implementation of the two-State solution. There was a need to move from state-building to ending occupation and international acts of support should shift from the economic to the political. He emphasized the vital importance of encouraging, stimulating and fostering state-in-the-making legitimate Palestinian representative institutions like the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. He concluded by suggesting that with some monitoring, international assistance should be channelled through inclusive Palestinian organizations.
59. Mohammed Kamal Hassoneh , Minister for National Economy of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah, said that without a political solution to the conflict, reconstruction efforts would only have limited success. The international community could play an important part in achieving a political settlement of the Middle East conflict. It could also exert efforts to open the crossings, letting in building material to rebuild the housing sector and infrastructure. He stressed that it was important to end the impunity of Israel, which was acting as if it was above the law.
60. Noting that many initiatives had been launched recently, he recalled that the Palestinian Authority had introduced the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, providing a comprehensive programme for the reconstruction and development of Gaza. As Minister of Economy, he envisioned a serious role for the private sector in the efforts to rebuild Gaza, with support from the United Nations and other relevant organizations. Those efforts could benefit from the experience of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) gained in such countries as Lebanon. The previous week, the delegation of the Ministry of Economy of the Palestinian Authority had met with the representatives of the private sector, with UNIDO participation, in Vienna. He emphasized that UNIDO had significant experience in such projects as the recycling of rubble for construction purposes.
61. Ali Badarneh, of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization provided details on the rubble recycling programme and made a PowerPoint presentation on the losses within Gaza's private sector in accordance with a preliminary assessment report, which had been prepared in February 2009. He said that the activities of the handcraft, textile, construction and paper sectors were completely halted, with establishments shut down. Out of more than 2,400 private sector establishments, only 258 from the key sectors in the Gaza Strip were partially operating, employing 1,878 workers. The number of workers in 2006 had been 65,000.
62. Ahmad Maher , Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, expressed appreciation for the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, saying that while Israel continued to destroy, the Committee upheld the Palestinians' rights to land, homes and having their own state, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
63. He pointed out that every time there was an Israeli destruction and incursion into the Palestinian Territory, the international community agreed to pay for reconstruction. But while it was important to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, it was time to hold Israel accountable for the damage it inflicted. It was a cry of justice agreed upon by everybody. He said as an Egyptian, he was grateful to the international community for its assistance, which, he hoped, would continue. He concluded by saying there was a responsibility to protect Palestinians who needed to be shielded from further aggression and to be able to rebuild their country as they deserved.
64. Rosemary Willey-Al’Sanah , in her capacity as representative of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Peace in the Middle East, Jerusalem, said the United Nations consolidated appeals process and mid-term response plan were frameworks for supporting the Palestinian programmes. The appeals process had been recently revised, with part of it presented as a US$ 613-million flash appeal. The mid-term plan had been initially developed in 2008 to articulate the Organization's contribution to the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan for both Gaza and West Bank that had been presented at Annapolis. It was currently being revised to take into account the events in Gaza and Palestinian programme adjustments. The United Nations country team was seeking to shift its focus from direct project implementation to increasing its support to the PA, by providing more technical advice and resources in direct support of the PA.
65. She said it was important for the United Nations to regularly review and monitor the aid and humanitarian work and adapt a coherent and flexible approach. Describing the aid coordination structures with the Palestinian Authority, she said that they were far from perfect, but had proven a useful forum for the PA to outline its priorities and consult on its plans and financial resources provided. She said that the Humanitarian Task Force was in charge of humanitarian coordination. Early recovery needed now to be closely integrated into the existing aid coordination structure to prevent possible disconnect from the PA's planning and budgeting processes and sector analysis, she added. The country team would meet later that month, looking at future areas of collaboration, including expanded joint programming, aligning planning and improving engagement with donors.
66. Michael Ryan, First Counsellor for Political Affairs of the Delegation of the European Commission to Egypt, said that the Sharm el-Sheikh conference had been a clear indication of the international community’s support for the reconstruction of Gaza. The Seminar now presented a good opportunity to build on the momentum and follow up on the commitments made. The international community was gladly offering its assistance. The European public opinion and leaders were sensitive, however, to the need to pay yet again for the rebuilding of the same facilities.
67. He recalled that the European Union had been involved in Gaza and the West Bank for a long time, and its level of support in Gaza was very high. Despite the fact that European Union assistance was channelled through a single financing mechanism, when it came to donor coordination it cooperated and coordinated with the local forum towards reconstruction and development. Taking the fact that existing mechanisms for channelling support and assistance into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were working well, he cautioned against creating new ones, to avoid duplication. He said whatever mechanisms or programmes were used, getting access to Gaza was of utmost importance, and the European Commission regularly raised that issue with Israel.
68. Charles Clayton , World Vision National Director and Chair of the Association of International Development Agencies in Jerusalem, said that working together, the United Nations and the NGO community could create "a whole greater than the sum of its parts". Just as the United Nations provided standardization, NGOs supplied diversity of mission and character; as the United Nations provided size and scale, NGOs provided specialization; and as the United Nations connected its response to world leaders, NGOs connected their response to civil society at the grass roots. Those were the strengths that NGOs brought to the coordination effort as recovery and reconstruction in Gaza took place. He said his organization included people who were not ordinarily identified as the natural allies of the Palestinians, but were thirsty for justice. Consequently, when the conflict in Gaza began, the organization had been able, through the reputation of its work, to reach those unconventional supporters.
69. He explained that two essential conditions for the effectiveness of NGO work were neutrality and impartiality. In a context as politicized as Gaza, the NGOs were under tremendous pressure from a variety of quarters to design their programmes in order to assist one group instead of another, or to advance the policy of one country instead of another. NGOs looked to the United Nations for protection from such pressures. They also looked to United Nations standards to guide them, and to its size and scale to provide a strong example in neutral and impartial programming. The NGOs also looked to the United Nations connection to the international community to restrain wrongful influence by any of the parties to the conflict.
IV. Closing session
71. Continuing, he said that the third event was taking place on the other side of town, where dozens of Palestinian leaders were meeting to try to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, stressing the importance of his people being represented by "one sole and legitimate representative". He expressed hope that Palestinians would regain the unity of their land, for which they had paid dearly, end the division and continue with the struggle against occupation. All three events in Egypt would help to reconstruct Gaza, he said. But, he cautioned, the tragedy in Gaza should not distract attention from the provision of needed assistance to the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
72. Turning to the outcome of the Seminar, he said that the event had presented an opportunity to see how the PLO and the Palestinian Authority could improve their efforts to serve their people. It had also allowed various partners, including United Nations agencies, to assess their efforts and look for ways to improve their performance. He recalled a frequently raised question, including during the Committee delegation's meeting with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, regarding guarantees that reconstruction in Gaza would not be destroyed by Israel again. He stressed that Gaza should be reconstructed even if guarantees were not possible, pointing out that it was possible to deter the destruction. It was the responsibility of the Governments participating in the present Seminar to demand an end to Israel’s illegal activities. He called upon the Quartet to find practical ways of bringing Israel into compliance. Israel could not continue to be a State above international law. He said that a political process based on different criteria was needed, not because Palestinians had failed to meet their obligations in the current one, but because of Israel’s intensification of illegal measures of settlement building, erecting checkpoints, continued closure of Palestinian political institutions in Jerusalem and refusal to release prisoners. He said that the positive signs from the new US Administration constituted an historic opportunity. However, such an opportunity would not produce positive results unless the Palestinians and the Arab countries regained unity. He expressed hope that the promised peace treaty between Israel and Palesti ne would be concluded with the help of all friends and the Obama Administration.
73. Paul Badji , Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that various presentations during the Seminar had exposed the reality of the current situation in Gaza, which was one of poverty, humiliation, deprivation and helplessness. The international community had the duty to redouble its efforts, not only in support of the Palestinian people, but in particular of the people of Gaza, so that they could overcome that adverse situation. The alarming state of affairs in the Gaza Strip that had been outlined by participants’ two-day deliberations had been closely followed by the Committee in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. He referred to the massive loss of life and injuries, in particular those inflicted by certain types of weapons used by Israel. He reiterated the Committee’s support for the establishment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations Board of Inquiry to review and investigate a number of incidents in which death or injuries had occurred at United Nations facilities during the Gaza offensive. The Committee also looked forward to the results of other investigative missions, such as the one established by the Human Rights Council or the Arab League.
74. He denounced the continued Israeli restrictions regarding the access of emergency relief, reflecting Israel’s neglect of its obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population under occupation. He recalled that participants, while condemning the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militant groups, had concurred that Israel's response to the actions of a small number of militants had been vastly disproportionate. Collective punishment was prohibited under international law. He acknowledged that even under those extremely difficult conditions, humanitarian agencies on the ground had been working relentlessly to remedy the effects of the Israeli offensive. He expressed the hope that the generous pledges of over US$ 4.5 billion at the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza would enable the implementation of the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan.
75. He recalled that during the Seminar it had been said that a large part of the infrastructure and institutions built by donors over the years had been destroyed. To make things worse, Israel had imposed restrictions, particularly on the import of construction materials. Participants agreed that those restrictions also made current level of food dependency in the Gaza Strip particularly worrisome. They commended, however, the efforts by various United Nations agencies and programmes in support of the people of Gaza. He called upon all donors to assist those important agencies to ensure that assistance needs of the Gaza Strip were fully funded.
76. In conclusion, he said that emergency assistance and relief by the international community were critical in the immediate aftermath of the destruction in Gaza, but they could not substitute for economic recovery and longer-term development. For that to happen, Israel must immediately remove all movement restrictions, in keeping with the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Sustainable development could only come about with the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, living side by side with Israel within secure and recognized borders.
List of participants