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Source: Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
12 October 2004

Palestinian Development Forum Discusses Impact of Occupation, Initiates Aid Projects For Gaza and Agricultural Sector

Beirut, 12 October  2004  (United Nations Information Services)-- The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Ms. Mervat Tallawy, held a press conference this afternoon, announcing an initiative with “Iitilaf Al-Kheir” association, represented by its executive director Issam Yousef, to provide a US$ 3 million intended to rehabilitate Palestinian agricultural lands. The release of the project came as a part of the “Arab-International Forum on the Rehabilitation and Development of the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Towards an Independent State,” which opened yesterday at the BIEL Centre in Beirut, Lebanon.

During the press conference, which was attended by Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Palestinian Minister of Labour Gahssan Al-Khatib, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority announced the “Gaza Initiative”. The initiative consists of a starting fund of US$26 million aimed at providing direct assistance to the Palestinian people.

“The Gaza Initiative is intended to be a quick response to help Gaza following the Israeli incursion,” Mansour Bin Fatah of the Al Aqsa Fund said at the press conference, remarking that basic services such as electricity and access to food and water have been completely destroyed. The initiative is also intended to contribute to greater reconstruction efforts such as the rebuilding of houses, roads and public services.

Since the Israeli incursion into Gaza on 28 September 2004, more than 110 Palestinian civilians have been killed, 29 of them children. At least 362 have been wounded and an estimated 72 homes and private properties have been completely demolished in addition to the damage incurred to hundreds of other homes. Numerous public facilities, including police and security posts, schools, mosques and kindergartens have been damaged or destroyed.

The Palestinian Development Forum

The press conference followed two morning sessions of the “Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Towards an Independent State”, organized by ESCWA, the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority. The sessions featured high-level Palestinian and international authorities speaking on the economic and social repercussions of occupation in the Palestinian Territories, and the Palestinian vision for future development.

First Session: Impact of Occupation and Palestinian Development Mission

The first morning session, “The Impact of Occupation and the Palestinian Development Vision,” focused on identifying a coordinated Palestinian vision for future development and featured various Palestinian authorities. Mr. Hassan Sharif, Forum coordinator, gave the opening speech, representing Executive Secretary of ESCWA Mervat Tallawy. Also speaking were Mr. Mohamed Ghadieh, Director General of the Palestinian Ministry of Planning, H.E. Mr. Ghassan Al-Khatib, Minister of Labour and Acting Minsiter of Planning, and Mr. Fadle Naqib, Adviser to the Ministry of Planning.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Sharif provided a summary of the Secretary General’s report on the repercussions of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian Territory, prepared by ESCWA. Mr. Sharif noted that in the past year, 1 million fruit-bearing trees have been damaged in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as over 1,000 water wells. In addition the numerous roadblocks and similar obstructions to movement, in particular the separation wall, have severely damaged the economy and social fabric of the Palestinian population. Moreover, economic data has shown a severe degradation in living standards to the extent that the UN has qualified the Palestinian territories as constituting a “war-torn economy.”

Thematic throughout the speeches was the acknowledgement that the Israeli occupation and its repercussions could not be separated from prospects for economic and social development in the Palestinian territories. Nonetheless, the speakers took great care to outline a Palestinian vision for viable development. Speaking about the “inter-Palestinian consultation process,” Mr. Ghadieh remembered that when first meeting to plan this Forum a few years ago, there was no consolidated Palestinian vision for development. He called the Forum a “golden opportunity” to formulate a national vision for Palestine that could provide a sense of “national ownership far from what is discussed, imposed or adopted on Palestine which is often irrelevant.”

In his speech, Mr. Al-Khatib echoed these sentiments, outlining a coordinated Palestinian vision for development. He stressed the need for development to focus on individuals, calling human development the “cornerstone” for national development. In particular, he called for increasing job opportunities in the Palestinian territories; supporting the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate authority; increasing the partnership of the private sector and civic society; improving educational facilities and helping social and cultural centers to overcome their difficulties in movement; distributing wealth fairly; and filling legal gaps.

Mr. Naqib’s presentation stressed the importance of linking relief to development in face of continuous violence and instability in the Palestinian territories. Referring to the continuous flow of Palestinian labour to Israel he said, “Israel will never relinquish the occupation as long as the gains exceed the losses.” Therefore, he said, it was imperative that the Palestinian development plan support direct investment that would create jobs and rehabilitate the business sector. Moreover he emphasized the need for political and social justice and legitimacy, and called on the intellectual and political elite to bear its responsibility in the resistance and in the establishment of sustainable development.

Second Session: Prospects for Development amidst Uncertainties

The second session, “Prospects for Development amidst Uncertainties,” focused on identifying concrete steps towards building a viable and sustainable Palestinian economy and social infrastructure. Speakers included Mr. George Abed, Special Adviser to the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Atef Kubursi, a Professor of Economics at McMaster University in Canada, Mr. Mushtak Khan, Professor of Economics at the University of London, and Mr. Mostafa Barghouti, the Director of Health, Development and Information and Policy Institute in Palestine.

In his speech, Mr. Abed emphasized the need for internal reform in order to achieve sustainable development, including organizing and following through with elections, dividing legislative powers fairly, creating a framework for a government of national unity, and supporting private businesses.

Moreover, Mr. Abed stressed the importance of planning in advance for an Israeli withdrawal of Gaza. “We must not be taken by surprise when they withdraw, or else what was there will be replaced with internal conflict and strife, just as many people expect.” To ensure a successful transition to autonomy over the Gaza Strip, Mr. Abed stressed that the Palestinian Authority be regarded as the central authority; that a link be forged with the West Bank and with the world; and that a coordinated plan be established to deal with natural resources such as water, before the Israeli withdrawal.

Nonetheless he expressed optimism for the Palestinian economy should there be an end to occupation, citing the Palestinian economy throughout the 1970 to 1990s as an example for potential growth. In that period, Palestinian territories enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent and total production of the Palestinian economy was at 1 percent, among the highest in the region. Mr. Abed said a return to these indexes, an increase in GDP, a decrease in unemployment back to the previous rate of 7.9 percent and a decrease of labourers in Israel by 50,000, along with increased participation of women in the business sector should lead to successful development.

Speaking about the possibilities for development under crisis conditions, Mr. Kubursi noted that development and occupation worked against each other, the former requiring long-term vision, and the latter necessitating short-term solutions.

“Development is the right to freedom from hunger, poverty and oppression, and from anything that opposes human dignity. This cannot go along with occupation,” he said.

“Crises in themselves create golden opportunities. We should seize this opportunity for development and liberation, absorb the Palestinian labour force, reorganize the Palestinian market, direct human efforts to reinforce the Palestinian economy, and rehabilitate the agricultural sector,” he added.

Mr. Khan, a specialist in development in Asian countries, criticized the international approach to solving the Palestinian problem, saying that development had to be achieved before political reform could be instated. Citing examples from Thailand, Malaysia and China, he outlined a plan for economic development that would promote investment, stabilize the economy, create a political environment to support growth and thereby increase prosperity, leading to reform in political institutions. In terms of Palestine, he said, neither reform nor development could be achieved without considering the Israeli occupation and its policy of “security-first,” which directly interferes in the freedom of Palestinian economic and human development.

The final speaker for the morning sessions was Mr. Barghouti, who presented a series of devastating statistics about the disintegration of the Palestinian economy and society over the past four years. He mentioned, for example, that since 2000, some 3,200 Palestinians have been killed, 82 percent of them civilians, and 636 of them children. Over 650,000 men have been detained, constituting 40 percent of the male population. An estimated $1 billion of infrastructure has been destroyed, with 60,781 demolished between September 2000 and December 2003, leaving 25,000 people homeless. In addition, the creation of the separation wall threatens to undermine any possibility of Palestinian autonomy. He urged a support for non-violent resistance, and reform in elections and in education.

“The goal right now is survival and resistance,” he said, “The only possibility is development based on basic rights in order to achieve a realistic and comprehensive independence.”

The Forum resumed after lunch with a series of parallel workshops aimed at developing partnership initiatives. Various experts engaged participants in discussions covering the economic, social and infrastructure priorities of sustainable development, including investing in the private sector; encouraging Arab investment and involvement in Palestinian production and trade; improving the education sector; and promoting investment in the tourism industry; developing sustainable public services and working with UN and other international agencies to promote cultural and social development. The outcome of the workshops will be presented at the end of the Forum, which closes on 14 October.

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