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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to welcome you to the Stockholm International Donor Conference on the Humanitarian Situation in the Palestinian Territories. I would also like to thank President Mahmoud Abbas and his office, the co-chairing governments of Norway and Spain as well as OCHA for assisting with the preparations for this conference.
Yet again, the Middle East has been at the centre of international attention. There has been bloodshed and destruction. Lebanon has been on the headlines and TV-screens recently but all the time there has also been Gaza. There has been growing frustration and despair.
Once again, we are reminded that the region's conflicts cannot be solved by military means. We have been reminded that violence feeds violence as well as hatred and mistrust.
Once again, we have also been made painfully aware that there is no alternative to a return to the peace process. Only a negotiated settlement, based on international law and relevant UN resolutions can bring about lasting peace and security for the peoples in the Middle East.
As we all know, the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories is critical. Already in May, the United Nations launched a revised humanitarian appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is an extraordinary measure. To cover the further increase of humanitarian needs, the United Nations requested another 170 million USD from the international community to help the most needy, particularly children in Palestinian territories.
The children of Gaza and the West Bank make up more than half of the Palestinian population. The hardship and risks they have to face are truly alarming. The children are the most vulnerable and exposed to malnutrition and communicable diseases. Tragically, a quarter of the casualties during the latest round of violence were children.
Children are the future of Palestine. It is a moral obligation, as well as our political responsibility, to make sure that the Palestinian children are protected and have full access to shelter, food and other basic needs.
We must provide these children with hope for a better future. But the reality of today holds very little of that hope. This is dangerous. If we fail to take action we would not only prolong the human suffering, but also pave the way for further radicalization. This, in turn, may have dire long-term consequences for the region. Therefore we have a serious task in restoring hope as well as encouraging moderation.
We have yet to reach the goal set by the United Nations' humanitarian appeal. After months of violence in Gaza and the West Bank, and wide-spread anxiety among the civilian population, it is imperative that the Palestinian people is now given the opportunity to experience a sense of normalcy. They must also quickly see signs of improvements in their living conditions.
The excessive use of violence in attacking the Gaza power plant has led to wide spread humanitarian suffering among the civilian population. The shortage of electricity has made it difficult for hospitals to function properly and has limited the supply of water, with serious effects on the health situation. And the continued closure of crossings for commodities has led to an acute lack of food and fuel.
We are facing a situation where more than 70 percent of the population in Gaza is dependent on international relief to cover their daily food needs. These are the Palestinian realities on the ground.
As we address today's most pressing needs, we must at the same time adopt a long-term perspective and a comprehensive approach to the situation in the Middle East.
The international community stands ready to co-operate with a Palestinian government that shares President Abbas position on the Quartet principles: a commitment to the principles of non-violence, a recognition of Israel's right to exist and an acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. Questioning Israel's right to live in peace and security within recognized borders is politically and morally unacceptable, and a non-starter in the search for a long-term settlement in the region.
Israel, on its part, must abide by international humanitarian law and humanitarian rights law. Israel must refrain from using excessive force and attacking the civilian population and infrastructure. The Palestinians' right to a viable state must be recognized and all activities that create "facts on the ground" - such as building the security barrier on occupied territories - must cease.
Both parties must commit themselves to a re-launched and serious peace process. The blueprint exists, in the form of the Road Map. A viable independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel is key to stability and security in the whole region.
Today's conference will focus on humanitarian assistance and early recovery. The immediate needs of the Palestinian people have to be met. But the international community, with its local counterparts, will not be able to help the Palestinians without access to Gaza and the West Bank. Israel must co-operate fully with the international community and grant humanitarian access.
When the acute crisis is solved, both parties must do their utmost to implement the Agreement of Movement and Access. As pointed out by the World Bank, the key to restoring the Palestinian economy is for Israel to remove internal closures and restore the flow of goods across borders. Freedom of movement is a prerequisite for a sustainable Palestinian economy.
I hope that today's conference will give strong boost to the UN revised appeal.
I am pleased to announce that the support of Sweden to the UN consolidated appeal has increased with an additional 4 million USD this summer. The total Swedish contribution for this year accounts to approximately 50 million USD.
Today we pledge another 5 million USD to the revised humanitarian appeal. In addition, I would like to announce 3 million USD for the rebuilding of the electricity power plants in Gaza and 6 million USD to the World Bank's Trust Fund for Support to Social Services. Our new contributions to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories amount to 14 million USD. I urge all countries present here to further increase the level of contributions.
The tragic developments this summer has caused human suffering in large parts of the Middle East. We have to break the vicious circle of violence. The feeling of despair must be replaced by hope. Hope based on a foundation of action creating a life in dignity for all. Our first urgent step on that path is to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories.
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