Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
Fifty-fifth General Assembly
15th Meeting (PM)
26 October 2000
FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DISCUSSION OF PALESTINE RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY
COMMISSIONER-GENERAL STRESSES CRITICAL FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faced a cash shortfall of $40 million and would run out of cash by the beginning of next month unless it received additional inflows, Peter Hansen, the Agency’s Commissioner-General, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as it began its consideration of UNRWA’s activities.
Introducing his report for the period 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000, he said the Agency’s cash-flow situation had become so critical at the end of last year that only a $12 million advance payment by the United States had enabled the UNRWA to meet its payroll. This year, a budget deficit of $27.3 million was expected against a cash budget of $280.4 million. The financial stringency under which the Agency had to operate left it little room to meet the predictable growth in demands on its resources.
He noted that there had been a recognition that over the past half-century, UNRWA’s services had been a key factor in providing basic, but vital social and economic support to the Palestinian refugees, thus contributing substantially to regional stability. There had also been a recognition of the vital need for those services to continue at an adequate level in the interest of the refugees’ well-being and of continuing stability in the region.
Israeli-imposed restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff in Gaza and the West Bank and between the territories was a feature of the difficult environment in which UNRWA staff had to work, he continued. Those restrictions included searches of staff and their vehicles; permit systems regulating the travel of staff; strict limitations on the issuance of permits to Agency drivers, who had to go through long security vetting processes; and frequent checkpoint controls. Those and other restrictions had become tighter in recent weeks.
At the outset of the general debate, the Observer for Palestine paid tribute to the UNRWA’s efforts, saying that without its assistance over the past five decades, the suffering and overall situation of the refugees would be unimaginable. That suffering had greatly increased in recent weeks, due to violent and aggressive Israeli practices and to Israel’s freezing of the peace process. The Agency must be allowed to carry out its mandate until a just and comprehensive solution to the refugee situation was achieved.
Jordan’s representative noted that his country’s burden in supporting the refugees had exceeded that of any other party. In 1999, its expenditures had been more than five times the UNRWA’s spending on essential services. The resulting pressures on Jordan’s economy increased with the decline of UNRWA services. The international community must prevent reductions in the Agency’s role; otherwise such basic humanitarian services as education, health, and social care would be adversely affected.
Egypt’s representative stressed the need for renewed action in responding to the needs of Palestinian refugees. However, such a response should not exempt the international community from its political role in bringing pressure to bear on Israel, which had been responsible for the refugee situation in the first place. Israel had introduced a new dimension by its persistent use of military force, on the grounds of ensuring its own security. The international community must ensure the rights of the Palestinian refugees, including their right of return and their right to compensation.
The representative of Japan welcomed the UNRWA’s decision to introduce a new budgetary format, separating its regular budget from its project budget. That improvement would make it possible to analyse the cost-effectiveness of projects and establish priorities, thus contributing to a more effective allocation of limited funds and better management of the Agency’s finances. It would also introduce greater transparency in the regular budgetary process.
Other speakers this afternoon were the representatives of United Arab Emirates, France (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Cuba, Norway, China, Tunisia and Yemen.
Hans Brattskar (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introduced that body’s report.
Also this afternoon, the representative of Sweden introduced a revised draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation. The representative of Belarus then withdrew his proposed amendments. Committee action on that text is expected at the next meeting.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 30 October, to continue its consideration of UNRWA's activities.
Committee Work Programme
When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to began considering the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), it had before it a report on that Agency's activities for the period 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000.
report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
(UNRWA) (document A/55/13) covers general developments in UNRWA programmes. Employing some 21,000 staff and operating or supporting some 900 facilities, the Agency is the largest United Nations programme in the Middle East region. It commemorated its fiftieth anniversary during the reporting period, having begun its work on 1 May 1950. It was established by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949.
During the reporting period, continued financial and operational difficulties overshadowed its historic achievements, the Commissioner-General reports. Despite the lifting of most austerity and cost-reduction measures imposed in 1997, the UNRWA's budget deficit and cash-flow situation remained critical. The Agency ended 1999 with a deficit of $61.4 million in its regular cash budget approved by the General Assembly, and with depleted cash and working capital reserves.
The Agency's biennium budget for 2000-2001 was well received by donors and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) for the clarity of its presentation and objectives, the report says. A new preparation process and format sought to enhance the budget's usefulness as a planning, management and fund-raising tool and to offer greater transparency. At the pledging Conference for the UNRWA in December 1999, it was underlined that the budget was designed to safeguard the quality and level of services to Palestine refugees and that it must be fully funded in order to achieve that aim. By mid-2000, an Agency-wide exercise was underway to monitor expenditures against budget proposals and to reallocate expenditures to priority areas where necessary.
The UNRWA continued to seek greater efficiency through an internal restructuring and reform programme, the Commissioner-General states. Donor funding was used to continue technical assistance in reforming the Agency's financial systems; improving educational planning mechanisms; and improving procurement policies and procedures. By mid-2000, the UNRWA had selected a new financial system, which was intended to be operational by June 2001, in time for the preparation of the next biennium budget.
In addition to covering general developments in education, health, relief and social services, financial and legal matters, the report also details the situation in the Agency's five fields of operation -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It notes that the UNRWA's external operating environment continued to be volatile, with a number of violent incidents occurring in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. The election of a new Israeli Government in mid-1999 and the subsequent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations raised expectations of progress towards a comprehensive settlement of the long-standing Middle East conflict. At the same time, some Palestinian refugees, anxious about their future status, interpreted the UNRWA's continuing financial difficulties as being politically motivated and signalling the international community's weakening commitment to the refugee question.
The Commissioner-General reports that the UNRWA continued to cooperate with the governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and with the Palestinian Authority, in providing services to Palestinian refugees. The host authorities provided direct assistance to refugees parallel to UNRWA services. The Agency cooperated with Israel on a number of issues related to UNRWA operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It continued to raise with the Israeli authorities the constraints on its operations caused by restrictions on the movement of staff and goods between the West Bank and Gaza and Israel.
According to the report, the Palestinian Authority continued to support the UNRWA's work in the occupied territory, including the self-rule areas, with significant cooperation in planning, policy formulation and service delivery. However, the Agency's financial problems prevented further progress in the harmonization of some services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, notably in the education cycle. In addition, the Palestinian Authority's non-reimbursement of value-added tax payments made by the UNRWA exacerbated the Agency's already precarious situation, threatening to disrupt its provision of core services.
The security situation in the West Bank remained tense for much of the reporting period, the report states. Palestinian residents clashed sporadically with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), with Israeli settlers and with Palestinian security forces. Palestinian protests marked the 15 May anniversary of the creation of Israel. In the ensuing six days of unrest, major clashes in many West Bank areas between the IDF and Israeli settlers, on the one side, and Palestinian security forces and civilians, on the other, led to six Palestinian deaths and several hundred injuries. Israeli casualties were estimated at 45.
Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, continued to impose full closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as curfews and closures in various West Bank localities, the report says. The security situation in the Gaza Strip was generally less tense than in the West Bank, although there were sporadic low-level clashes between the IDF and their Palestinian counterparts and between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Palestinians protested the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the Gush Katif bloc and the reinforcement of IDF security positions near the settlements in the first half of 2000.
The Commissioner-General reports that socio-economic conditions remained difficult in the Gaza Strip, whose residents continued to rely heavily on employment opportunities inside Israel. However, labour and trade flows between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip were higher in 1999 than in 1998. The opening of a "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza on 18 October 1999, eased communication and travel between the two areas, although the Israeli-imposed permit system remained an obstacle to free movement.
Real gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip grew by an estimated 6 to 7 per cent respectively in 1999, according to the report. But, despite the modest economic recovery, refugee communities remained among the poorest in Palestinian society, especially in the Gaza Strip, where about 40 per cent of the population live in poverty. The UNRWA played a major role in providing services to the Gaza Strip, where registered refugees account for three-quarters of the population. The Agency's regular programme budget for the Gaza Strip in the year 2000 was $85.4 million, down from $103.5 million in 1999. Its 2000 budget for the West Bank fell to $48.4 million from $56.1 million in 1999.
According to the report, the Palestinian refugee population in Jordan, the largest in any of the fields of operation, enjoyed full citizenship, giving them access to governmental services and development assistance. The Government of Jordan reported expenditures of $380.4 million on behalf of refugees and displaced persons during the reporting period. The UNRWA's regular programme budget for Jordan in 2000 dropped to $70.7 million from $75 million in 1999.
The report says that the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon was among the most disadvantaged, suffering from poor housing and living conditions, restrictions on mobility and high unemployment rates. The Lebanese authorities continued to prohibit construction in certain refugee camps and, in others, to subject the entry of construction materials to military approval, which was not always granted. The UNRWA operations were not disrupted by the events in southern Lebanon, although Israel Air Force bombardments of other parts of Lebanon disrupted operations in the Beirut area. The Agency's regular programme budget for Lebanon in 2000 declined to $43.5 million from $46.6 million in 1999.
The report says that Palestinian refugees in Syria enjoyed full access to government services. Government recognition of diplomas awarded by the UNRWA's vocational training centre would facilitate employment prospects for Palestinian refugees and the Government also cooperated closely with the Agency in planning for improved environmental health services to refugees. The Syrian Government reported expenditure of some $58.8 million on behalf of Palestinian refugees during the reporting period. The UNRWA's regular programme budget for Syria in 2000 dipped to $21.7 million from $23.8 million in 1999.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on
persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities
(document A/55/391) which describes his request to the Permanent Representative of Israel for information on any action taken or envisaged by his Government to implement General Assembly resolution 54/71 of December 1999 requesting a review of progress made in the return of the displaced persons to their home areas.
According to the report, the Israeli reply of 6 September reiterates Israel's opposition to resolutions regarding the UNRWA, which it says were rife with political issues irrelevant to the Agency's humanitarian mission. The resolutions did not reflect progress in the peace process, and thus did not encourage that process.
The report states that, according to the limited information available to the UNRWA, 1,278 refugees registered with the Agency returned to the West Bank and 218 to the Gaza Strip, between 1 July 1999 and 30 June 2000. Since 1967, 19,876 refugees returned to the occupied territories. The Agency is unable to estimate the total number of displaced inhabitants who have returned.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on
offers by Member States of grants and scholarships for Palestinian refugees
(document A/55/402), which notes that in fiscal year 2000, the Government of Japan awarded 12 such grants, bringing to 175 that country's total number of scholarships since the programme's inception, in addition to other scholarship funds contributed to the UNRWA in the past decade. Similarly, the Government of Switzerland contributed a total of $1,703,581 between 1989 and 1996 and an additional $338,000 in 1997 to the UNRWA scholarship programme for secondary school graduates. Also noted are scholarships granted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United World Colleges, as well as fellowships and study tours provided by the World Health Organization (WHO).
A report of the Secretary-General on the
University of Jerusalem "Al-Quds" for Palestine refugees
(document A/55/425) describes efforts to prepare a functional feasibility study on establishing the proposed university as requested by the General Assembly in resolution 36/146 G of 16 December 1981. The Rector of the United Nations University made available an expert to assist in the study's preparation. The expert was to visit the area and meet with the relevant Israeli officials. The Secretary-General, in a note verbale dated 8 August to the Permanent Representative of Israel, requested that Israel facilitate the expert's visit.
According to the report, Israel's reply, dated 6 September, states that Israel remained opposed to the initiative. It was clear, the reply continued, that its purpose is to exploit the field of higher education for political purposes totally extraneous to genuine academic pursuits. The expert's visit would have no useful purpose. In view of Israel's position, the report states, it has not been possible to complete the feasibility study.
The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on
Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues
(document A/55/428), which reviews the implementation of General Assembly resolution 54/74 of 6 December 1999 on this issue. On 9 August, the Secretary-General requested the Permanent Representative of Israel to inform him by 11 September of any steps taken or envisaged by his Government in the implementation of resolutions 54/69 to 54/75. On 15 August, the Secretary-General requested other Member States to submit similar information on that issue.
In a note verbale dated 6 September, the report says, Israel's Permanent Representative reiterated his country's position against resolutions regarding the UNRWA, which it says were rife with political issues that were irrelevant to the Agency's humanitarian mission. They did not reflect progress in the peace process, and thus did not encourage that process. No replies had yet been received from other Member States.
A note by the Secretary-General on the
report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine
(document A/55/329) states that the Commission has nothing new to report since its submission of its previous report of 10 September 1999 (document A/54/338).
Also before the Committee was the
report of the Working Group on the Financing of the UNRWA
(document A/55/456), which expresses the Working Group's deep concern about the Agency's financial prospects after eight years of austerity measures that have eroded the level and quality of its services to the 3.7 million Palestinian refugees. At the same time, it expresses appreciation for significant progress towards eliminating the structural deficit problems of recent years.
The report urges governments to begin contributing, increase their contributions, or maintain high levels of contributions to the UNRWA. It also urges them to consider making special contributions to cover the Agency's deficit and build up working capital, in order to restore services that have been cut and to ensure that emergency-related services and other special programmes do not divert contributions to the UNRWA's regular programmes.
Also before the Committee was a
letter dated 16 October 2000 from the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations
(document A/55/490-S/2000/993) to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council. It states that Israel continues a campaign of terror against the Palestinian people. Noting that Israel has intensified restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, the letter stresses the need for Israel's full compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, and the international community's responsibility to ensure such compliance.
PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, introduced his report by observing that the past four weeks had witnessed anew, in graphic and often tragic manifestations, the depth of feeling aroused by the continuing absence of a solution to the Palestine question. At the heart of that issue were the Palestinian refugees, whom the UNRWA had been serving for 50 years. From UNRWA headquarters in Gaza, one had only to look out of the window to appreciate in sobering reality the political and humanitarian issues charging the atmosphere in which the Agency had had to carry out its mandate.
He said that the current crisis had, among other things, revealed once again to the international community and the parties directly concerned, the unique and incomparable contribution that the United Nations, even in the form of the Secretary-General himself, could make to the search for a durable and just peace in the Middle East region. But, the recent loss of innocent lives, the undermining of confidence in the political process, renewed exposure of the vulnerability and frustration felt by the Palestinians, especially the refugees, had served to highlight the fundamental humanitarian role the United Nations could play, even in an unresolved and complex problem with a highly charged political dimension. Half of the Palestinians killed in the recent clashes had been refugees.
Two clear themes had emerged from last month’s annual meeting of the UNRWA’s Advisory Commission and a preceding informal meeting of its host countries and major donors, he said. The first was the recognition that over the past half-century the UNRWA’s services had been a key factor in ensuring that the Palestinian refugees were provided with basic but vital social and economic support. That had contributed substantially to regional stability. Second, there had been a recognition of the vital need for those services to continue at an adequate level in the interest of the refugees’ well-being, and of continuing stability in the region.
He noted that, despite the years of conflict and despite the fact that many of the refugees had been uprooted twice or more in half a century, refugee children from UNRWA schools habitually scored better than their local peers in school examinations. The general health standards of the refugees were among the best in the region. Their network of community-based organizations serving women, youth and the disabled, formed a basis for civil society in the greater Palestinian society. However, the task had not been easy and was becoming ever more difficult, as resources failed to keep up with the growing needs.
The financial stringency under which the UNRWA had to operate left the Agency with little room to meet the predictable growth in demands on its resources, not to mention unexpected demands, he said. The cash-flow situation had become so critical at the end of last year that only an advance payment by the United States of $12 million on its contribution for the year 2000 had enabled the UNRWA to meet its payroll. This year, against a cash budget of $280.4 million, a budget deficit of $27.3 million was expected. Starting next month, the Agency faced a cash shortfall of $40 million and would run out of cash without additional inflows.
A major aggravating factor for the cash situation this year had been the unpredictable workings of world currency markets, he continued. The appreciation of the United States dollar, particularly against the euro, had resulted in a net loss of more than $10 million, as of 1 October, in the value of contributions in that currency alone. Some 85 per cent of the UNRWA’s expenditures were in dollars, while only 40 per cent of income was received in that currency. The lack of working capital and the general shortfall in resources had severely undermined the Agency’s ability to hedge against unexpected contingencies.
He said that a difficult feature of the environment in which UNRWA staff had to work was the many restrictions applied by the Israeli authorities on the movement of Agency staff in Gaza and the West Bank and between the territories. They included searches of staff and their vehicles; permit systems regulating the travel of staff; strict limitations on the issuance of permits to Agency drivers, who had to go through long security vetting processes; and frequent checkpoint controls.
The UNRWA’s difficulties were intensified further during closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and by restrictions on travel across the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge. All those restrictions had become tighter in recent weeks. New rules designating new entry points into Gaza and limits on the number of cargo-carrying trucks allowed to enter, had created further delays and storage expenses for the Agency in supplying essential goods, including food, for UNRWA operations.
The imposition of a closure during the current unrest had made it impossible for the UNRWA’s Palestinian drivers, even with permits granted by Israeli security authorities, to move in and out of Gaza, he noted. Moreover, the Agency’s stranded shipping containers incurred daily additional storage charges. The UNRWA had taken up those issues with the Israeli security authorities at the highest level, but assurances of a relaxation of the restrictions had not materialized fully in practice. A new restriction, under which Palestinian drivers holding security permits had to be accompanied by international staff, was seriously disrupting the movement of essential staff and supplies. There had been no easing of restrictions on the movement of other Palestinian staff.
The UNRWA’s staff was 99 per cent Palestinian, he pointed out. In periods of strife, the Agency was in the midst of it, trying to continue its humanitarian work. Its limited number of ambulances and its medicine supplies had all been made available to those affected by the current violence. The UNRWA vehicles, including ambulances, had been fired upon and staff had been hurt. Trucks carrying supplies had been stopped and even attacked at settler or army checkpoints. The selfless courage and dedication of the UNRWA staff as they went about their humanitarian work deserved tribute from the Committee.
HANS BRATTSKAR (
), Rapporteur, introduced the Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. He said that the members of the Working Group had, during the past year, followed with concern the difficulties experienced by the Agency and, in particular, the serious financial situation it continued to face. In 1999 and the first part of 2000, the UNRWA continued to record budget deficits and, as in previous years, faced the prospect of not being able to meet its operating costs in 2000.
The report of the Working Group noted, he said, that eight years of austerity measures had eroded the level and quality of the UNRWA’s services to the 3.7 million Palestine refugees, and expressed fears that additional cuts could cause severe social and economic hardship on an already suffering refugee population. At the same time, it expressed appreciation for significant progress towards eliminating the structural deficit problems of recent years.
The report, he said, urged governments to begin contributing, increase their contributions, or maintain high levels of contributions to the UNRWA. It also urged them to consider making special contributions to cover the Agency's deficit and build up working capital, in order to restore services that had been cut and to ensure that emergency-related services and other special programmes did not divert contributions intended for the UNRWA's regular programmes.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Observer Mission of Palestine, said she wished to begin by reaffirming the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and to the territory occupied by Israel since 1967, and to compensation for those who did not choose to return. Those rights were distinct from the right to Palestinian nationality and the right to become citizens of the future Palestinian State.
She paid tribute to the efforts of UNRWA personnel, and expressed gratitude to host countries and donors. Without the UNRWA’s assistance over the past five decades, she said, the suffering and overall situation of the Palestine refugees would be unimaginable. In addition to living conditions characterized by cramped shelters, high unemployment, poverty and overburdened infrastructure, the suffering had greatly increased in recent weeks due to violent and aggressive Israeli practices and the Israeli freeze of the peace process. Many of those killed were refugees registered with the UNRWA.
Those same Israeli practices, she said, had obstructed UNRWA operations. The UNRWA must be allowed to carry out its mandate, like all United Nations agencies, until a just and comprehensive solution of the refugee situation was arrived at and implemented. In that vein, she urged donors to increase contributions, so that budgetary problems did not make the refugees feel as though the international community was abandoning them.
Concerning other matters related to the agenda item, she also proposed the revitalization of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, which had been annually requested to exert efforts relating to the return or compensation of the Palestine refugees, and whose records were relevant, in that regard. She encouraged the Commissioner-General to undertake a modernization of the UNRWA’s archive, as well. She also encouraged the close cooperation of other United Nations agencies with the UNRWA, to support and enhance its work.
AHMED ALMU TAWA’A (
United Arab Emirates
) expressed regret over the aggression, violence and embargoes imposed on the refugee camps within the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as on Lebanese territory. Having closely followed the peace negotiations and the most recent regrettable developments in the region, the United Arab Emirates underscored that any comprehensive settlement to the question of Palestinian refugees must include their inalienable and legitimate right to return to their homeland and to compensation for the material and other losses they had incurred during their displacement.
He expressed concern over the difficulties faced by the UNRWA as a result of the massive decline in contributions from donor countries. That decrease had affected not only the development programmes in the Agency’s fields of operation, but also the level and quality of the services it provided to Palestinian refugees. The United Arab Emirates urged donor countries and agencies to maintain or increase the level of their contributions.
The United Arab Emirates reaffirmed the responsibility of the international community, in particular the United Nations, for the settlement of the question of Palestine.
HOSSAM ZAKI (
) noted that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees had suffered as a result of the force used against them in 1949. They constituted the world’s oldest refugee tragedy. The UNRWA had been playing a vital role in helping the refugees and had been very effective in preventing an even greater explosion arising from the disaster that had befallen them.
He said that General Assembly resolution 914 of 1948 and subsequent resolutions provided for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees, including the right to return and to resume possession of their property. The Assembly had repeatedly reasserted that position. Any settlement of the question of Palestinian refugees must consider resolution 914, which constituted the basis of any just and lasting settlement to the refugee question.
All parties involved in the search for a solution to that question were aware of the UNRWA’s importance, he said. The present situation required that donor countries and institutions maintain or increase their contributions to maintain the necessary financing and to ensure there was no diminution in the Agency’s services. He had noted with concern the persistent financial difficulties affecting the UNRWA, in particular the cash deficit, as described in the Commissioner-General’s report and that of the Working Group on the Financing of the UNRWA.
Stressing the necessity for renewed action in responding to the needs of Palestinian refugees, he said such a response should not exempt the international community from its political role in bringing pressure to bear on Israel, which had been responsible for the refugee situation in the first place. Israel had used devastating force against refugee camps, humiliating the refugees and making their living conditions worse. Israel had introduced a new dimension by its persistent use of military force, on the grounds of ensuring its own security. That called into question the international community’s role in ensuring the rights of the Palestinian refugees, including their right of return and their right to compensation.
CHRISTOPHE BIGOT (
), on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, paid tribute to the work of the UNRWA and thanked the host governments for the refugee support they had given. The Union shared the anxiety over the fiscal situation of the UNRWA and hoped that contributors’ pledges would be sufficient to solve its financial difficulties.
He reminded the Committee that the Union was the UNRWA’s largest voluntary donor, giving over $100 million annually, and the largest supplier of food aid, up to $10 million. The Union was pleased with the Agency’s restructuring efforts and encouraged further efforts to increase transparency and cost-effectiveness, while not reducing or degrading services.
However, the question of the Palestinian refugees, he said, was not merely a budgetary or administrative problem. It was a human one that must be settled in an equitable way, in compliance with international law. The right to return and the right to compensation for losses suffered are principles on which progress could be based. Despite the tragic events of the last few weeks, the European Union remained attached to the peace process and was prepared to play its full role.
ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (
) expressed appreciation for the efforts undertaken by the UNRWA's Commissioner-General and staff through the years, despite the obstructions to its operations in recent weeks. He called the UNRWA one of the most successful agencies in the field of providing services in education, vocational training, health care, and social affairs, despite its dwindling resources. A just settlement for Palestinian refugees, including the rights of return and compensation, was the cornerstone to a lasting Middle East peace. Those rights were stressed in the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.
However, he said, as long as the current conditions remained in place, the UNRWA was absolutely necessary. Jordan’s burden in supporting the refugees had exceeded the share of any other party. In 1999, its expenditures in that area were more than five times the expenditure of the UNRWA on essential services. That put difficult pressure on its economy, a pressure that increased with the decline of UNRWA services.
He called on the international community to prevent reductions in the role of the UNRWA until a just solution was achieved to the Palestinian question, according to the relevant United Nations resolutions. Otherwise there would be an adverse effect on such basic humanitarian services as education, health and social care. Jordan would then have to cover those services, which could not be reduced, especially since the number of refugees was constantly growing.
RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (
) said that the provocative acts and indiscriminate attacks by groups in Israel that were opposed to peace had made the UNRWA’s work particularly difficult. In that context, the Agency’s work had become increasingly important. Its financial difficulties were reflected in an even greater deterioration in the refugees’ living conditions. Cuba supported the Agency’s appeal for the maintenance and increase in the level of contributions to enable the UNRWA to continue supporting public sector services now undertaken by the host countries.
He expressed Cuba’s concern over the restrictions on movement between the West Bank and Gaza. It was also regrettable, he said that it had not been possible to conclude a functional feasibility study on the establishment of the proposed University of Jerusalem Al-Quds.
The current situation did not permit any vacillation on the part of the international community, he stressed. His country would continue to provide opportunities for young Palestinians to study and pursue professional training in Cuba. Until the question of Palestinian refugees was resolved, it would be necessary for the UNRWA’s work to continue. The Agency’s role would remain a fundamental one for the foreseeable future.
Mr. BRATTSKAR (
), noted that the session was taking place at a time of confrontation and violence, which had caused much suffering and was, in addition, detrimental to social and economic development in the Palestinian territories. Further deterioration of living conditions would increase the disillusionment of the refugee population. At such a critical time, the continued international commitment to the UNRWA remained indispensable.
He commended the Commissioner-General and his staff for their untiring efforts, while expressing concern about the repeated funding shortfalls and erosion of services caused by austerity measures. He welcomed initiatives aimed at increased transparency and improved management. Norway’s strong commitment to the UNRWA was shown by the fact that it was one of its major contributors. A solvent UNRWA was vital to the refugees and their host countries, as well as to progress in the peace process. He appealed for an expansion of the donor base, and for donors to honour their pledges.
WANG DONGHUA (
), noting that the peace process had recently been frustrated again by sustained violent conflict and bloodshed in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territory, he called upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from words or actions that might further jeopardize it.
The question of Palestinian refugees had always been crucial to the Middle East process, he said. This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the UNRWA, which had overcome many difficulties in the past half-century in promoting stability in the region and giving impetus to the peace process. It had become an indispensable part of the whole peace process.
He noted that the UNRWA had been faced with serious financial difficulties for a long time which affected its work and impacted negatively on the peace process. He sympathized with the Agency’s staff, who were working in extremely difficult circumstances, and called for greater efforts by all concerned to improve their working conditions. For years, China had provided assistance to the Palestinian people through the UNRWA, as well as through bilateral channels. It would continue to do so this year.
MASATO OHTAKA (
) said the situation in the Middle East was clearly at a critical stage, as violent clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities continued for a fourth week. His Government deplored the continued violence and condemned all acts of provocation and the excessive use of force. It strongly urged all parties concerned to do their utmost to end the violence and immediately implement the recent agreement reached at Sharm el-Sheikh.
He said that throughout its history the UNRWA had contributed to regional stability by improving the economic and social conditions of Palestinian refugees. In so doing, it had kept intact the foundations of the Middle East peace process. Its role was even more crucial in the face of the current crisis.
As a major donor, he said, his country attached great importance to the Agency’s activities. Despite its own financial difficulties, Japan was determined to continue extending humanitarian assistance through the UNRWA and, in so doing, provide support to the Middle East peace process. At the same time, Japan expected that the UNRWA would continue its efforts to improve its financial situation, particularly since it again expected a deficit in fiscal 2000.
In that regard, he welcomed the Agency’s decision to introduce a new budgetary format, separating its regular budget from its project budget. That improvement would make it possible to analyse the cost-effectiveness of projects and establish priorities, thus contributing to a more effective allocation of limited funds and better management of UNRWA finances. It would also introduce greater transparency in the regular budgetary process.
MOHAMED SALAH TEKAYA (
) expressed gratitude to the UNRWA’s Commissioner-General and staff, as well as host and donor countries for their support of the Palestinian refugees. The UNRWA had worked for many years to protect and to relieve their suffering. It was essential that its work continued, and that it retained the quality and level of its services until the refugees were accorded their full rights in a just settlement.
He, therefore, noted with concern the financial difficulties it faced, and appealed to the international community to maintain or increase support. That would have a positive effect on both the physical and psychological condition of the refugees.
The current discussions, he said, were taking place at a dangerous time, due to the halt in the peace negotiations and the attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The problems that caused the current violence were endemic to the situation of the territories. They were political matters which required a comprehensive political solution, for which a prerequisite was the realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their rights to return and compensation, in accordance with relevant resolutions. His country had always participated in building the UNRWA. It reaffirmed its support, and called on the international community to accord the proper importance to the question under consideration.
HAMED OBADI (
) said that the question of Palestinian refugees had been on the General Assembly’s agenda for more than 50 years and was being debated today against a background of tragic events. Those developments would result in a climate of tension, violence and conflict in the Middle East region and impede the peace process.
He said that Israel’s terrorist actions were a flagrant violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people and of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Israel was still trying to avoid acceptance of the applicability of that Convention. It had not refrained from actions that violated the rights of the Palestinian people.
Israel had established checkpoints, imposed closures, besieged Palestinians economically and commercially, and arbitrarily arrested, detained and killed them, he said. Even the staff of the UNRWA had not been spared.
Movement permits already granted to them were revoked without notice, resulting in the disruption of the UNRWA’s work in the service of the refugees.
He reaffirmed the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to an independent State, with its capital at Jerusalem/Al-Quds al-Sharif. The international community must apply further pressure to induce Israel to accept a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks, instead of continuing practices and policies that jeopardized the peace process and undermined regional stability.
The austerity measures still in place had had a major impact on the level and quality of the UNRWA’s work, he noted. Yemen urged donor countries to increase their contributions to the UNRWA in order to enable the Agency to continue to fulfil its mandate, pending the achievement of a just and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
* *** *
For information media - not an official record