Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


5 December 1996


This is the text of a statement today by the President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), at the pledging conference for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA):

This morning's meeting has been convened to enable governments to announce their pledges of voluntary contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) pursuant to General Assembly resolution 1729 (XVI) of 20 December 1961. The excellent work and commitment of UNRWA in bringing about direct changes to the lives of 3.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip for almost five decades have to be fully recognized and supported, more so today than ever before as we endeavour to bring about lasting peace, security and development in the Middle East.

During the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People last week, I had underscored the need for the international community to renew its pledge of support for the aspirations and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as well as expressed deep concern over the current threats to the peace process. Despite numerous United Nations resolutions asserting the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, they have remained unfulfilled. While parties to the peace accords including the major Powers must discharge their responsibilities through the full implementation of these accords, it is equally vital to reiterate once again the permanent responsibility of the United Nations in resolving the question of Palestine.

In this connection, it is indeed encouraging to see UNRWA, the operational entity of the United Nations, assiduously working on the ground cushioning the Palestinian refugees from the effects of this long drawn-out Arab-Israeli conflict. The UNRWA, the oldest United Nations programme devoted to a single constituency, plans, implements and administers its own programmes and projects, which include the provision of direct services in education, health, and relief and social services to the Palestinian refugees. We applaud UNRWA's commitment to improve the social and economic situation on the ground. Presently, UNRWA also maintains one of the largest operational presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in terms of the financial resources it makes available, the services it provides, the infrastructure it has set up and the number of staff on its payroll.

However, despite the success of UNRWA in providing social services to the affected refugees, the Agency is now confronted by a serious financial crisis. As reported by Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, to the Assembly's Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) on 22 November, UNRWA is now at a breaking point. The international community must urgently address the structural deficit in the regular budget of UNRWA in order not to have UNRWA undergo again the austerity drive of earlier this year, which affected seriously UNRWA's programmes and services. The Amman Meeting of 23 September has in some ways alleviated the problem for this year, but for 1997 UNRWA has to be given the additional resources that it urgently requires to implement its programmes and activities.

The relocation of UNRWA's headquarters from Vienna to Gaza in July will enable the United Nations to further demonstrate to the Palestinian refugees its commitment to the peace process and the confidence that the world body places on the Palestinian Authority following the holding of the first Palestinian elections early this year. The move is also expected to bring about some cost-saving measures for the Agency.

While welcoming UNRWA's move into the area of operations, I am saddened, however, by the fact that despite the excellent working relationships that exist between UNRWA and the host Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the closure and other related security measures by the occupying Power have affected the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, who make up 1.2 million or 49 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip and the West
Bank. The rate of unemployment has escalated and this continued restriction on the movement of people and goods will worsen the situation even further. To compound this already difficult situation, UNRWA has been subjected to even more stringent checks by the occupying Power, which is selective in its recognition of the privileges and immunities of the Agency, where the majority of staff are made up of Palestinian refugees. This has adversely affected the level of service that the Agency is able to provide to the refugees on the ground.

Even as efforts by certain parties, including Palestine, are being exerted to save the peace process, we cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinian refugees who continue to suffer and live in extremely difficult conditions. They are already subjected to overcrowding in schools. Medical officers are overworked. Failure to address the socio-economic needs of the refugees will only strengthen the forces ranged against the peace process that feeds on desperation and cynicism. A beleaguered Palestine threatened of its economic and social viability does not conduce to further steps on the road to peace and stability. The Palestinians have been denied their rights and aspirations long enough. It is necessary for governments and the international community to provide more tangible commitments to the Palestinian refugees.

I therefore urge governments to respond generously to the appeal to help UNRWA in its important efforts to change the situation on the ground for the long suffering Palestinian refugees.

* *** *
For information media - not an official record