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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
19 February 2008

General Assembly
GA/PAL/1076

        Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


JORDAN SEMINAR TOLD NEGOTIATED POLITICAL SOLUTION ON FINAL STATUS

PRECONDITION TO SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH IN PALESTINIAN AREAS

United Nations Worker in West Bank, Gaza Paint Grim Picture;
Quartet Envoy Adviser Says Work 'Major Walk Up Very Steep Hill'


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

AMMAN, 19 February -- Constraints and challenges to Palestinian economic development, especially in Gaza and the West Bank, were detailed this afternoon by senior United Nations officials from the region, while the Donor Coordination Adviser in the Office of the Special Envoy in Jerusalem said a negotiated political solution on the permanent status issues was a precondition to any sustainable growth in the Palestinian areas.

Participants in the two-day United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People heard a striking account of the “very significant” impediments to a reasonable standard of living in the West Bank, by Rosemary Willey, Field Coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs there.  The humanitarian need in the West Bank was “extreme”, she said, with already 18 United Nations institutions responding to it.

With the help of a power-point presentation, Ms. Willey documented movement restrictions throughout that stretch of land that is home to 2.5 million Palestinians -- describing the restraints on daily life as “very physical, very concrete”.  According to the Israeli authorities, the constraints were to provide protection for half a million Israeli settlers, she said.

She described, and showed, checkpoints throughout the West Bank in the form of trenches, road gates, road blocks, earth mounds and flying checkpoints.  The barrier “penetrated deeply into the West Bank at certain points” and, once completed, would take in more than 12 per cent of that area.  The accumulation of 563 checkpoints meant that one could not lead a normal life, could not reach necessary services, that life costs more in terms of time, fuel and dignity.

“Dignity Denied” was the name of a new Red Cross report about the situation in Gaza, said John Ging, Gaza-based Director of Operations, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Hope had given way to despair.  Violence and a pervasive sense of fear had infected every household, and the scale of death and injury continued unabated.  Rockets and mortars were fired into Israel almost daily, terrorizing the Israeli population.  The restricted access of people and goods was underpinning the humanitarian misery of Gaza at the moment.

He said that every family was struggling to cope with personal crisis.  That pathetic state was clearly visible on 23 January when tens of thousands of people broke out of Gaza to buy food and medicines and other household supplies.  Every basic commodity is in short supply, from fuel and light bulbs to detergent and household supplies.  With the border at Rafah sealed once more, the population was trying to cope with a 50 per cent reduction of the pre-January 2007 level of supplies.  Yesterday, it was announced that ambulance services would be suspended because gasoline was running out. 

Donor Coordination Adviser, Office of the Special Envoy of the Quartet (Tony Blair) in Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, said he had hoped that he could have been able to flag some major success stories here at the Seminar.  His office was moving seriously forward on some major sectors and hoped those efforts would become specific and concrete and visible soon, but Mr. Blair was trying to achieve economic revitalization in a situation where the capacity of the Palestinian Authority was seriously constrained.  In short, “the work we have been doing has been a major walk up a very steep hill”.

His work was to underpin Annapolis and make changes on the ground, and get the compromises needed leading to the two-State solution, he said, adding, however, that the logic was reverse.  It was not possible to fully succeed precisely because there was no political solution – and that was the main dilemma, the general dilemma of economic change in the Palestinian situation at present.  “Pouring buckets of money into Gaza and the West Bank over and above what was put at the table in Paris could not very quickly be put in operation at the present circumstances,” he said.

Plenary Session I

The first plenary session was convened under the theme “Current constraints and challenges to the Palestinian economic development:  The situation on the ground”.  It considered the economic and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the scope of the humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip and the creation of an enabling environment for economic recovery.

ROSEMARY WILLEY, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Field Coordinator for the West Bank, explained that Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces protected their citizens, wherever they might be, regardless of whether they were in legal or illegal settlements. 

The Palestinian city of Nablus was essentially closed, as it could not be entered without passing through a checkpoint, but the two there were permanently closed.  For the remaining crossing, one needed a hard-to-get permit, but the restrictions essentially meant it was closed. 

She said that the information on the separation barrier had been that, once complete, the number of internal closures would decline, but now there was actually a “double layer”.  Only 20 per cent of the people who used to farm land west of the barrier now had access to it; people's houses were even separated from their olive groves. 

Of particular concern was the area of Jerusalem, as East Jerusalem had been annexed and placed on the Israeli side of the barrier, she said.  There were six major hospitals in Jerusalem, including one for cancer, another for children, a main eye hospital, and so forth.  It was also a holy city for both Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and people had social ties to the city.  At present, there were only four crossing points through which Palestinians could enter Jerusalem, and only on foot.  They needed a permit to make that crossing, and those were very difficult to get.

She next drew attention to the closed military zones on the West Bank, as well as nature reserves.  Israelis-only roads had been built linking Israel-proper to the settlements, and that had also created obstacles.  So, the effect of the closures had been to segment, fragment, partition the West Bank – into cantons. 

Everyone knew the future of the settlements was key to a viable future resolution, so that issue had to be taken very seriously, she said.  Constraints on the movement of Palestinians were major and barred any development and economic recovery in the West Bank.  There were still babies born on the road – as recently as 7 January – and that said something about the situation. 

The next speaker, LANA TATOUR, Information Coordinator for Gisha, the Tel Aviv-based Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, said the main goal of her organization was to bring the voices of Gaza residents to the Israeli public, the decision makers, the High Court and the media, as well as to the international community.  The siege on Gaza was being met with silence.  The conditions were not being heard fully.  Since 22 January, Gaza had received only 22 trucks with goods for 1.5 million people. 

In September 2007, she recalled, Israel had declared Gaza to be a “hostile entity”.  Following that, in late October, Israel had announced that it would start reducing fuel and electricity to Gaza.  Her organization had filed a petition, but Israel had claimed that it was maintaining the humanitarian minimum.  It had also claimed that it was imposing economic sanctions.  But Gaza was “not a foreign State, but an Occupied Territory”.  Therefore, the law of occupation should apply. 

Unfortunately, however, the court had rejected the petition; the judges had not been convinced that Israel was not meeting the basic humanitarian needs of the Gaza residents, saying that the law of occupation did not apply in Gaza.  Following that, the private sector in Gaza completely collapsed. 

TOR WENNESLAND said that working in the office of Tony Blair right now was about “trying to make a whiter shade of gray”.  There would not be any sustainable growth in the Palestinian areas before there was a negotiated political solution to the final status issues.  That meant that what was being done now would be of a temporary nature.  There were limits as to what could be achieved on the economic and development side, given the current constraints.  That was the challenge and the reality.

He said that the work of his team was focused on making changes as many as possible and as fast as possible.  In the meantime, between the situation on the ground and a possible establishment of a Palestinian State, the scope of time was more and more limited “each day we don't succeed”. 

Mr. Blair was trying to achieve economic revitalization in a situation where the capacity of the Palestinian Authority was “extremely constrained”:  the institutions had been demolished physically or in other ways; there had been a serious brain drain situation; and the Authority's capacity was far less than it had been seven years ago.  The Israeli hold on the West Bank and Gaza was creating a “fabric of economy” extremely difficult; achieving any significant growth required changing the realities on the ground.

Continuing, he said that the political situation on the Palestinian side made it difficult to facilitate broader economic activity in Gaza.  Without redressing that situation, there would be “serious difficulties in achieving serious results in our work”.  He had been pleased at the Paris Donors' Conference outcome, but it was crucial to make that money work. 

He said that the Palestinian Authority was doing a “marvelous job” of convincing the donors, but the task of the Blair office was to get the projects started.  That meant, not only new projects, but those that had stalled.  In order to unshackle those, things needed to get moving on the ground.  He had hoped to have been able to flag some success stories at the Seminar.  His office was moving “seriously forward in some major sectors”, and hoped they would become specific and concrete and visible “pretty soon”, but the work being done had been “a major walk up a very steep hill”. 

Specifically, his office's work was to underpin Annapolis and make changes on the ground, and get the compromises needed leading to the two-State solution, he said, adding, however, that the logic was reverse.  It was not possible to fully succeed precisely because there was no political solution – and that was the main dilemma, the general dilemma of economic change in the Palestinian situation at present.  “Pouring buckets of money into Gaza and the West Bank over and above what was put at the table in Paris could not very quickly be put in operation at the present circumstances,” he said.

He added he saw a serious effort to address that situation, first and foremost, by the Palestinian Authority, itself, which was seeking to build capacity.  There was complete under-capacity in the security sector, and an effort was being made to address that.  A convincing argument had to be made for the Israelis to withdraw.  Capacity was also seriously lacking in the civil police and judicial sectors.  A major part of the “Blair vision” had been to revitalize the private sector in the Palestinian Territory, but “we are not there yet”. 

The team was “burning the midnight oil” to provide the underpinning to the political negotiations, which had to be in place to reach the necessary compromises, but he said he would not bet any money “on whether we will succeed or not”.  The key to success would be the ability to “run a dialogue” with the Israelis, which would enable the unshackling of impediments to economic growth.  A lot of time was being spent on that, and for a very good reason. 

JOHN GING, UNRWA's Operations Director in Gaza, said that the title of the Red Cross report, “Dignity Denied” was an indication of just how bad the situation had become.  Upon entering Gaza, the first scene was a pile of rubble where once there was an industrial zone.  Hope had given way to despair.  Violence and a lack of access characterized the situation in Gaza, and a pervasive sense of fear permeated every household.  He reviewed the numbers of Palestinians killed and injured in 2007, adding that the rate of deaths and injuries continued unabated in 2008.

Also underpinning the humanitarian misery of Gaza at the moment were the restrictions of access of people and goods, he said.  Every family was struggling to cope with personal crisis.  That pathetic state was clearly visible on 23 January when tens of thousands of people broke out of Gaza to buy food and medicines and other household supplies.  Every basic commodity is in short supply, from fuel and light bulbs to detergent and household supplies.  With the border at Rafah sealed once more, the population was trying to cope with a 50 per cent reduction of the pre-January 2007 level of supplies.  Yesterday, it was announced that ambulance services would be suspended because gasoline was running out. 

Continuing, he said that the power plant was not getting enough fuel, there were no raw materials for manufacturing, 80,000 people had lost their jobs, and depend on United Nations handouts, many were not getting enough food less than the three square meals a day a common prisoner would receive.  Because of the restrictions, 200,000 children in UNRWA schools returned last September without their textbooks; again paper had been denied entry into Gaza.

He supposed that the devastating impact on the psychology of an entire population could not accurately be measured, or conveyed in words.  The punitive sanctions were indiscriminate and collective in their impact and counter-productive in their stated purpose.  The siege was having a devastating impact on education, he said, citing figures on literacy and related areas.  UNRWA was redoubling its efforts in that regard, but without a change in the dynamics of misery and despair, a decline in the economic standards was set to continue. 

WILLIAM D. CORCORAN, President of the Washington, D.C.-based American Near East Refugee Aid, said his company had been able to ship into Gaza $8 million worth of medicines since the closings.  The lines between relief and development had been “totally blurred”.  Local and international non-governmental organizations could be reliable partners in recovery.  His 40-year-old organization last year delivered $43 million worth of services; it also worked in Jordan and Lebanon.

In terms of educational infrastructure, American Near East Refugee Aid provided more classroom space, funding for schools, preschools and community centres, and mobilized private resources for that and related purposes.  Presently, his organization was feeding 20,000 preschool children daily in Gaza, and was screening them for vision, hearing and other learning disabilities.  New initiatives were also under way in the education portfolio, which included the design and construction of four information technology centres in connection with four West Bank universities. 

He said that the non-profit community had found innovative ways to persevere.  “Think small,” he urged, as all too often, the big plans were held up by technical requirements or unforeseen circumstances.  The time might be ripe now to settle for short-term activities, such as for the most urgently needed improvements; small might be more manageable right now.

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For information media • not an official record

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