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22. Mr. Nour (Officer-in-Charge, Regional Commissions New York Office), introducing the report of the Secretary-General on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields (E/2008/15 and Add.1 and 2), said that many of the policy and analytical issues raised in the report had been addressed in the Council’s dialogue with the Executive Secretaries of the five regional commissions during the high-level segment.
29. He then introduced the note by the Secretary-General on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan (E/2008/13). The occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel continued to deepen economic and social hardship. Mobility restrictions and closure policies remained a primary cause of poverty and humanitarian crises and restricted access to health and education services, employment, markets and social and religious networks.
30. Construction of the barrier had caused population displacement throughout the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem; approximately 25 per cent of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem were separated from the city and from essential services to which they were entitled as residents. Continued settlement expansion further fragmented the West Bank into a series of isolated enclaves. The imposed closure hampered normal economic activity and was a main cause of the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Export trade was particularly affected by the closure system, which raised transport costs for basic commodities.
31. The near-total isolation of Gaza since June 2007 had resulted in shortages of food, medical and relief items, spare parts for critical health and sanitation installations and raw materials for commerce and industry. The water supply and sanitation services in the occupied Palestinian territory were insufficient and unreliable in quality. In 2007, the daily average of water consumption per capita had been 60 and 58 litres in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, far below the minimum standard of 150 litres recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
32. Under Israeli occupation, the population of the Syrian Golan had declined from 130,000 in 1967, when many of the inhabitants had been expelled, to 21,000 Arabs and 20,000 Israeli settlers living in 45 illegal settlements, as at March 2007. The Arab population had experienced increasing restrictions on the exploitation of land and natural resources and had lost substantial land holdings traditionally used for pasture, adversely affecting production, commercial and land-use patterns.
33. At the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held in February 2008, the Secretary-General had reiterated the United Nations position that only a permanent political settlement which ended the occupation and gave Palestinians their independence could fundamentally alter their economic and humanitarian problems. He had stressed that the key ingredients for a breakthrough already existed, pointing to bilateral negotiations and donor support, and had said that with the right blend of wisdom, realism and political courage, historic progress towards the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, could be made.
34. Ms. Hastings (Chief of Staff, Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process), introducing the report of the Secretary-General on Assistance to the Palestinian People (E/2008/52), said that between May 2007 and April 2008, the Gaza Strip had experienced drastic economic decline and collapse of the private sector owing to its near-complete closure by Israel. However, the West Bank had witnessed modest recovery since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the formation of a new Palestinian Authority Government. There had also been significant progress in reform and pledges from international donors, in the amount of 7.7 billion dollars, over a three-year period for implementation of the new Palestinian Reform and Development Plan.
35. Those developments reflected the de facto political split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since June 2007. While bilateral political negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority had resumed after the November 2007 Annapolis Conference, there was still almost-daily rocket fire against Israeli targets in and around Gaza and Israeli aerial attacks and military incursions were frequent. A total of 998 Palestinians had been killed, 40 per cent of them as a result of internal Palestinian fighting. At the same time, militants in Gaza had launched over 1,900 rockets and mortars against communities in Israel, killing 23 Israelis. Despite large inflows of aid in recent years, at least 56 per cent of the Palestinian population lived below the poverty line, and food security and unemployment were matters of grave concern. United Nations studies over the previous year showed a significant deterioration in academic achievement by students, particularly in Gaza. Since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, industrial operations had been suspended; 33 per cent of Gazans were now unemployed and 80 per cent relied on United Nations food and other direct assistance.
36. The Government of Israel had further exacerbated the situation by reducing the amount of fuel allowed into Gaza, which, in turn, had interrupted the power supply and led to electricity cuts throughout the region. Commercial crossings into Israel were open for imports of international humanitarian and some categories of commercial goods. In some areas, access was permitted only for medical cases and a small number of merchants. Overall, impediments to movement in the West Bank had increased, and the barrier’s planned route had been completed despite the advisory opinion against it rendered by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
37. The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator continued to provide assistance to the Palestinian people. Emergency support formed the bulk of United Nations programme activities in the occupied Palestinian territory. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provided humanitarian aid through the 2008 consolidated appeal and facilitated projects led by NGOs through the Humanitarian and Emergency Response Fund. Food aid and emergency employment programmes had been provided by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in order to alleviate the plight of the refugee populations. The formation of the Government had encouraged many donors to resume their support to the Palestinian Authority and to focus on development activities. A draft Palestinian reform and development plan had been prepared at the December 2007 Paris international donor conference, at which US$ 7.7 billion had been pledged. The United Nations country team had agreed on strategic operational objectives that would provide the basis for a medium-term response to the Palestinian Authority’s objectives over the next three years.
38. While preparing the draft plan, the country team had continued to implement development programmes and support the MDGs. UNRWA, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided education-related services; the World Health Organization (WHO) offered its technical expertise by training Palestinian officials in child nutrition, safe water and hygiene; and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued to mainstream human rights within the country team. UNESCO, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) supported the Palestinian Women’s Research and Documentation Centre in order to promote research on the history and current status of women in Palestinian society. ESCWA worked with the national statistical offices on the maintenance of a central repository for data on MDG reporting, and United Nations agencies cooperated with the Palestinian Authority in the development of joint proposals under the UNDP/Spain MDG Achievement Trust Fund.
39. The conflict, the occupation and the political divide between Gaza and the West Bank presented challenges to the delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people. Emergency and humanitarian assistance was being rendered to a population that was otherwise ready for, and in need of, long-term development programming. Country teams were working closely with donors and the Palestinian Authority to ensure full implementation of the Palestinian reform and development plan. While the year ahead promised to be no less challenging, new opportunities could emerge if the commitments made by the two parties and the international community were met. Negotiations could open up new approaches and solutions with a view to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, based on Security Council resolutions, and to the establishment of a sovereign, democratic, viable and contiguous Palestinian state, living side by side in peace with a secure Israel.
44. Mr. Ja’afari (Observer for the Syrian Arab Republic) said that the more resolutions the United Nations adopted concerning the populations living in the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Syrian Golan, the more the suffering of those populations, which had been living under Israeli occupation since 1967, increased. The Israelis were determined to continue occupying territory which was not their own and refused to recognize the teaching of history to the effect that however long occupation lasted, it had to end.
45. The note by the Secretary-General (E/2008/13), prepared by ESCWA, provided statistics that demonstrated the barbarous nature of the occupation and Israel’s lack of respect for international humanitarian law and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The note made it clear that the leadership of the Israeli army committed crimes against humanity for which it should be held accountable forthwith. Furthermore, with the full knowledge of the international community, Israel had imposed a crippling economic embargo on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and hindered the endeavours of the humanitarian agencies that were attempting to relieve the disastrous consequences of that embargo.
46. In defiance of repeated calls to desist by the international community, Israel continued to pursue its illegal policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, to exploit the territories’ natural resources while denying the Palestinian people its right to enjoy them, and to expropriate and despoil agricultural land and mature trees. Israeli policies had a serious impact on the health and food security of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
47. Since 1967, in flagrant defiance of Security Council resolution 497 (1981), Israel had continued to impose its laws on the occupied Syrian Golan, a decision which, as the resolution stated, was without international legal effect. It continued to expand its settlements there and to arbitrarily detain members of the local population. It denied international agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), access to those detainees, many of whose health was at serious risk. Of particular concern were the cases of Beshr al-Makt and the journalist Ata Farhat. Israeli landmines continued to constitute a threat to villagers in the occupied Golan and had claimed the lives of four children in 2006. As in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel was expropriating and destroying agricultural land, exploiting the natural resources of the occupied Syrian Golan while denying the population the enjoyment thereof, and threatening the long-term viability of the environment by burying nuclear waste at a site on Mount Hermon.
48. Israel was also attempting to impose Israeli citizenship on the local Syrian population using such coercive tactics as denying workers access to employment. The employment conditions of the Syrian population were much less favourable than those of Israeli settlers.
49. The annual Council debate and report on such an important agenda item should have legal repercussions on the ground. His delegation called upon the Council’s President to use the note to prepare a report on the situation in the Middle East for submission to the Security Council.
50. Council resolutions concerning the conditions of populations living under occupation sent a clear message to the peoples of the world that occupation was inconsistent with humanitarian law. His delegation condemned the stance of certain countries that supported human rights in various forums but objected strongly to including in resolutions any mention of the suffering and rights of peoples living under foreign occupation, in particular when those occupiers were the Israelis. There appeared to be two standards, one which was applied to most of the world and another designed to protect Israel, whatever it did. Even if the Council was powerless to implement its resolutions, they had moral authority. He hoped that the draft resolution would be adopted by consensus.
51. Ms. Rasheed (Observer for Palestine) said that it was important to consider the profound cumulative effects of Israeli practices and policies on the youth and future generations of Palestinians. For 41 years, Israel had enforced a policy of systematic destruction, targeting the social and economic fabric of the Palestinian people with complete impunity. That policy had gravely violated its obligations as an occupying Power under international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other relevant international documents.
52. The most striking manifestation of that systematic policy was the continued construction of the illegal wall and of illegal settlements that now covered 40 per cent of the West Bank, despite the advisory opinion to the contrary issued by the International Court of Justice and the adoption of General Assembly resolution ES-10/15 of 2 August 2004. Almost 90 per cent of the barrier penetrated deep into the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, destroying Palestinian land, resources and livelihoods in the process. Almost half a million Palestinians would be directly affected by the illegal wall and forced to endure a caged existence in isolated communities, while thousands more were suffering displacement, isolation, loss of property and income and, most importantly, loss of hope as they witnessed the confiscation of their land and property. Illegal settlements and infrastructure for Israeli use deprived Palestinians of the West Bank’s most fertile land and water resources; the wall would annex 46 per cent of the West Bank’s most valuable water sources.
53. The oppressive, colonial regime of the occupying Power was protected and preserved by a system of closure enforced through hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and gates that encroached on the Palestinian people’s basic right to access and movement within their own territory. The policy of that apartheid-like regime effectively disrupted all aspects of daily economic and social life, including the ability of Palestinians to reach workplaces, schools and medical services. OCHA had cited Israel’s restrictions as a primary cause of the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the World Bank had repeatedly attributed the shrinking Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP) to the regime’s policies.
54. In the current global situation of soaring oil prices and food crisis, the Palestinian people confronted the double impact of hunger, imposed through siege, forced unemployment, loss of livelihood and destruction of property; and the rising prices of food and essential commodities. UNRWA had noted the dire food needs of the Palestinians and the alarming rise in extreme poverty. Fifty per cent of Palestinians in the occupied territory relied on donor food aid.
55. The direct and indirect consequences of the occupation covered all aspects of the social and economic life in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem. The systematic colonization and oppression aimed at undermining development and eroding the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian population was a sinister policy that sought to drive Palestinians out of their homeland by imposing unbearable and inhumane conditions. The Palestinian people would, however, stay the course; they were deeply rooted in their land and would defy the odds of a brutal military occupation by insisting on a life of dignity, liberty and prosperity. Their perseverance was driven by their unshakeable conviction that the occupation of Palestine would suffer the fate of other occupations. At the same time, they called on the international community to uphold and protect the principles and achievements of humanity as embodied in the United Nations.
56. Mr. Mohamad (Sudan) said that despite deteriorating conditions, the Palestinian people clung to their dream of an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital. The practices of the Israeli occupying forces contravened international law, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Charter of the United Nations. Palestinians continued to be killed and wounded, and over 8,300 individuals were detained in Israeli prisons. Israel was forcibly displacing civilians, expropriating land, cancelling residence permits, restricting the movement of persons by means of crossing closures and preventing access to humanitarian aid. The separation wall was now over 703 kilometres long, and its construction continued despite the adoption of General Assembly resolution ES-10/15 (2004).
57. The occupied Syrian Golan was being subjected by Israel to an economic and social embargo. The construction of settlements, imposition of collective punishment and displacement of civilians all constituted violations of international law and of the Charter of the United Nations. The presence of landmines posed a threat to the inhabitants of Arab villages, and Israel had disposed of nuclear waste near Jabal al-Shaykh.
58. The Council had a responsibility to support the relevant United Nations agencies and other international organizations and to send urgent aid. Pressure should be put on Israel to comply with the Protocol on Economic Relations signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel in Paris in 1994; implement the Agreement on Movement and Access of 15 November 2005; restore and replace civilian properties; withdraw from all of the Arab territories occupied on or after 1967; recognize the right of return for Palestine refugees in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948; and comply with internationally recognized humanitarian agreements.
59. Mr. Zainal Abidin (Malaysia) noted that the note by the Secretary-General (E/2008/13) vividly illustrated many examples of human rights violations and illegal actions committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. While he recognized the significance of recent developments such as the Gaza truce and the previous week’s prisoner exchange, which it hoped would contribute to the Middle East peace process, there was still no movement by Israel towards dismantling the illegal settlements and the separation wall or ending the internal and external closure regime, as it was required to do under international law.
60. The ongoing construction of the separation wall was having a negative effect on social and economic life for the vast majority of Palestinians, who had to compete with Israeli settlers for limited resources such as land and water, and whose freedom of access and movement was restricted. Similarly, the extensive closure regimes, both internal and external, were a main cause of the deteriorating humanitarian situation and impeded normal economic activities by restricting export trade and increasing the cost of transporting basic commodities. The growing population of Israeli settlers residing in the occupied territory, illegally and in contravention of Security Council resolutions, also constituted an obstacle to economic and social development.
61. The pattern of human rights violations and illegal actions on the part of Israel was systemic and pervasive. Through its collective voice, the international community must pressure Israel to respect international law and halt all its human rights violations and illegal actions. As the occupying Power, Israel must respect the rules of international humanitarian law and refrain from violence against the civilian population, in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention. The only way to alleviate the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people was through a permanent political settlement which would end the occupation and give the Palestinians their independence.
62. In its resolution 2007/26, the Council had stressed the importance of reviving the Middle East peace process on the basis of Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 425 (1978), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003) and 1544 (2005); the principle of land for peace; and compliance with the agreements between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Council should continue to reiterate that call.
68. Ms. Tobing (Indonesia) said that the note by the Secretary-General painted a very bleak picture, concluding that the Israeli occupation was intensifying the economic and social hardship of the Palestinian and Syrian people in the occupied Palestinian territory and the Syrian Golan. Humanitarian conditions continued to deteriorate and increased restrictions on the operations of humanitarian agencies hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That situation was particularly distressing given that nearly 85 per cent of the population of Gaza relied on food assistance from the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. Among the most troubling factors was the combination of intensified closures and sanctions imposed by Israel and the increased Palestinian internal conflict, which had led to a measurable deepening of the socio-economic crisis in the occupied territory in the previous year. In that connection, she welcomed the recent holding in Jakarta, of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) Ministerial Conference on Capacity Building for Palestine. The participation of 56 Asian and African countries, as well as several Latin American countries and international organizations, reflected the deep commitment of the NAASP countries to support for the Palestinian cause.
69. While the number of Israeli settlements in the Golan had increased to 45 by August 2007, the conditions of existence, education and employment of the remaining Syrian Arabs had continued to deteriorate. She recalled that according to resolutions of both the Security Council and the General Assembly, the Israeli decision to annex the Golan was null and void. The note only confirmed what was already known: the conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territory and the Syrian Golan had continued to deteriorate on account of Israeli policy, and there might never be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians if those conditions persisted. Israel must reconsider and change its policies if it was ever to enjoy the confidence of the Palestinians and the international community. Peace in the Middle East had a chance only on the basis of a fundamental change in Israeli policy and implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map of the Quartet, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and respect for the principle of land for peace.
74. Mr. Benfreha (Algeria) observed that the Israeli occupation continued to worsen the economic situation of the Palestinian people and the Arab population of the occupied Syrian Golan and that the humanitarian crisis was worsening in the occupied territory, notably Gaza, as a result of isolation. The occupying Power had not respected the obligation, imposed by the Geneva Conventions, to guarantee access by humanitarian aid and assistance to the occupied territories. On the contrary, it persisted in its policy of applying draconian restrictions on the freedom of circulation, sealing off territories and confiscating territory, thereby restricting access by Palestinians to the basic services of health and education, to employment and to other social activities.
75.75. The building of the separation wall and the isolation of Jerusalem was a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention and of the fundamental rules of international law; moreover, it flouted the will of the international community as expressed in the advisory opinion issued on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice, which had held that the wall was contrary to international law. Over and above its impact on national unity and the integrity of the Palestinian territory, the wall was impeding the normal economic and social life of the Palestinian people. Israel’s closure of crossings to the transfer of goods was contrary to all the rules of international humanitarian law and world trade and considerably damaged the Palestinian economy, impeding development. In further violation of international humanitarian law, the occupying Power prevented the Syrian population of the Golan from enjoying the right to freedom of movement. More than ever, the international community was called upon to uphold its commitment to the Palestinian people and the population of the Golan and to reaffirm their inalienable right to their natural resources.
76. Mr. Fluss (Israel) reaffirmed Israel’s shared vision of two States living side by side in peace and security, which was the ultimate goal of all. He regretted some of the statements made during the discussion and wished to register his disappointment at the politically motivated consideration of the single specific humanitarian issue of Palestine, when many similarly unique humanitarian situations were not addressed by the Council.
77. Assigning sole blame to Israel, without a single mention of the causes of its defensive actions, simply distorted the reality on the ground: rocket attacks on civilian populations, cynical attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations on border crossings supplying humanitarian aid, forced defensive closures and restrictions. Israeli citizens were being attacked on a daily basis from Gaza; only a few hours earlier, a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian had ploughed through cars and civilians in the streets of Jerusalem at the very time that President Peres and Chairman Abu Mazen had been meeting.
78. A thriving Palestinian economy was strongly in Israel’s interests, as was an improved humanitarian situation. To that end, in the past month, Israel had transferred taxes and allowed an increased flow of humanitarian assistance, subject to the absence of terrorist attacks. Israel was working with the Palestinian Authority, in the belief that strengthening the moderates in Palestine was the best way forward towards peace and towards an improved economic, social and humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.
The meeting rose at 1 p.m.
Corrections to this record should be submitted in one of the working languages. They should be set forth in a memorandum and also incorporated in a copy of the record. They should be sent within one week of the date of this document to the Chief, Official Records Editing Section, room DC2-750, 2 United Nations Plaza.