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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


GA/EF/2838
28 October 1998


SECOND COMMITTEE TOLD ISRAEL DENIES RIGHTS OF PALESTINIANS

THROUGH DIVERSION OF WATER AND LAND CONFISCATION

Committee Also Discusses Work of United Nations University


Israel was denying the Palestinian people their rights through its forced diversion of water resources and confiscation of land, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) was told this afternoon as it considered the sovereignty of the Palestinian people over their natural resources.

Israel's actions were intended to drive away the land owners in the interest of an occupying minority, said the representative of Egypt. Those actions were environmental terrorism against the land's Palestinian owners. The creation of a regimen of financial incentives to attract polluting industries to settle in those territories, and Israeli laxity at enforcing environmental standards, allowed problems to become manifest. Those problems could lead to clashes and volatility, not only in the affected territories but throughout the Middle East.

Israel's increasing water demands had been met almost entirely from the West Bank, said the representative of Syria. In the Golan, Arab living conditions had declined with Israel's occupation.

The representative of the observer mission of Palestine said it had recently been determined that Israel was dropping dangerous refuse in Palestinian areas, including eighty-plus tons of chemical waste. That was a serious violation of Palestinian rights to its natural resources and showed that a spirit of domination was pervasive in the Israeli administration of Palestinian land. Despite all those difficulties, the Palestinians were trying to build a country.

The representative of Israel said that, in light of the positive breakthrough of the Wye River Memorandum signed days ago, it was regrettable that the Committee should be discussing the current topic. The peace process depended on the support of the international community. Support meant creating an atmosphere conducive to achieving progress in the negotiations, not a climate of political confrontations. Unfortunately, today's debate contributed nothing at all to the cooperative spirit of the peace process.

Statements on that topic were also made by the representatives of Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan. A representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) also spoke.

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The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 29 October, to consider sustainable development and international economic cooperation.

Committee Work Programme

The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to consider the topic of training and research. Under that general heading, it will discuss the United Nations University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). The Committee will also take up the agenda item: permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources.

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Further, the Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General entitled "Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli Occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan" (A/53/163 - E/1998/79). By its resolution 1997/67 of 25 July 1997 dealing with that subject, the Economic and Social Council requested the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of its resolution. The General Assembly, by resolution 52/207 of 18 December 1997, reiterated the request. The Secretary-General's note transmits a report prepared by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in response to the requests.

The report, which covers the period from June 1997 to May 1998, states that the stalling peace process has been accompanied by continuing hardship for the Palestinians in the occupied territory, as well as for the Arab population of the occupied Syrian Golan. Israeli occupation policies and closures of the occupied territories continued to aggravate the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

Israel has established approximately 150 settlements in the West Bank, with a civilian population of 170,000; in East Jerusalem, approximately 180,000 Israelis are resident; in the Gaza Strip, 5,500 settlers live in 16 settlements; and in the Golan Heights, 15,000 settlers reside in 36 settlements. By the end of 1998, more than 350,000 Israelis would be living in over 200 communities established since 1967 in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

During the coming 15 years, settlement expansion in East Jerusalem was expected to play a crucial role in offsetting Palestinian population growth. That anticipated increase in Israeli settler population would bring the total number of Israeli settlers in and around East Jerusalem by the year 2015 to 500,000. The Palestinian population was expected to double over the same period, to 1.5 million within greater Jerusalem and to 1 million in the metropolitan region.

Moreover, environmental conditions often differ greatly in areas inhabited by Arabs and Israelis. Contamination by sewage directly affects Palestinian agriculture in the region around Kiryat Arba near Hebron. The confiscation of agricultural lands and their transfer to settlements has occurred on numerous occasions. There are also costs associated with Israeli-owned industries in the occupied territories, such as a recycling plant for used motor oil, stone quarries and other plants where harmful and toxic by-products are produced.

Limited access to water remained the greatest obstacle to Palestinian agricultural development. According to a recent report for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, almost the entire increase in Israeli water use since 1967 derived from the waters of the West Bank and the upper Jordan River. However, Israel was today in the midst of a water emergency. Even with the resources acquired in 1967, it was pumping more water from aquifers than nature could replace. In the West Bank, Israel was exploiting water amounting to 15 per cent of total consumption for its own population in Israel and the occupied territories. It was also preventing the Palestinian community from increasing its water use to barely 20 per cent beyond the amount used in 1967, and only for personal use, not for agriculture and economic development. The document cited a recent report for an Israeli think tank, which stated that the status quo had effectively barred economic development in the territories and in Gaza.

Environmental regulations on soil, air and water quality, and restrictions on industrial development, have generally been far less comprehensive and much less enforced in the occupied territories, compared to Israel proper. Combined with state-subsidized incentives for Israeli concerns to locate to industrial parks in nearby settlements, the relative laxity of environmental enforcement and monitoring has led to the relocation of polluting industries into the occupied territories.

The settlement of Kiryat Arba has been identified by Palestinian investigators as the main source of pollution in the Hebron area. A tile factory located in the settlement's industrial area was flushing its wastewater through the sewage system, resulting in numerous problems. The city of Hebron successfully petitioned the court to stop that practice. The wastewater was subsequently trucked off in tanks and dumped on Palestinian fields. The water contained high levels of calcium carbonate, increasing the already high pH level of the land. The report cited additional Israeli industrial polluters in the occupied territories and documented a very high ratio of health-related problems among farmers and people living around the factories.

The unemployment situation in the West Bank and Gaza strip remained critical due to frequent Israeli border closures, the report stated. The closures had also been a major factor behind the 18 per cent drop in gross national product (GNP) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 35 per cent drop in per capita GNP between 1992 and 1996. In addition, in 1997 gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have grown by 1.2 per cent, down from 5.5 per cent in 1996, as estimated by the Palestinian Authority and the International Monetary Fund, while the population growth was estimated at 4.5 per cent. However, economic indicators showed that the actual deterioration in standards of living had been far more dramatic in the West Bank, with a 19.7 per cent loss of per capita GDP compared with 8.4 per cent in the Gaza Strip in the period 1993-1995.

The report also noted that while incentives and investment continued to promote the Israeli civilian presence in the Syrian Golan, the Arab population faced further deterioration in their living conditions owing to Israeli settlements, restrictions on employment opportunities and education, as well as the Israeli taxation policy.

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Statements on Palestinian Natural Resources

HASSAM-EDIN A'ALA (Syria) said there had been overuse of natural resources by Israel that had led to an ecological imbalance in the occupied territories. The colonization of the occupied territories by Israel involved the seizure of lands and water resources. Israel had done that under a number of pretexts, such as security and allegations of extremism. Israel had also exercised a policy to annex the Golan area from Syria. That matter was aggravated when the Knesset drafted a law to annex the Golan Heights. The Security Council considered that law null and void; however, Israel went ahead with the annexation. In addition to those actions, Israel continued to lay seige to five Syrian villages containing some 23,000 Syrian civilians. All that went hand-in-hand with the Israeli authority's policy to deprive the Syrian citizens of the Golan access to water. Israeli authorities, however, were using those resources for their own settlements.

AMANY FAHMY (Egypt) said that settlement building and systematic strategic, economic and social measures on the part of Israeli occupation forces in the territories, against the Palestinian people, was in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Those measures were intended to drive away the land owners in the interest of an occupying minority.

He said those actions were a tool of what he called environmental terrorism against the land's Palestinian owners. The creation of a regimen of financial incentives to attract polluting industries to settle in those territories, and Israeli laxity at enforcing environmental standards at the expense of Arab land ownership, allowed problems to become manifest which could lead to clashes and volatility, not only in the affected territories but throughout the Middle East.

Egypt hoped the recent signing, by Israel and Palestine, of an interim agreement would lead to peace, on the basis of exchange of land for peace. But Israel's policies in the occupied territories were in contradiction to the policies of the present Israeli administration.

ABDERRAZAK AZAIEZ (Tunisia) said there was need to discuss the current topic as long as Israel continued its occupation and as long as peoples were denied their civil and political rights. Denial of fundamental rights was demonstrated in the forced diversion of water resources and the confiscation of land by Israel. The report of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) gave a succinct picture of the impact of Israeli occupation. The occupying power had also been confiscating water -- Israel's increasing water demands had been met almost entirely from the West Bank. In the Golan, Arab living conditions had declined with Israel's occupation. Syrian peasants had to pay taxes to Israel for use of water for livestock and agriculture. That had caused many Syrians in the area to give up farming.

JAMAL AL-BADER (Qatar) said the ESCWA report clearly showed the thrust of Israeli policies in the occupied territories. Confiscation of Arab lands and the destruction of houses all flew in the face of international human rights instruments. Israeli policies demonstrated a race against the clock to bring in Jewish settlers from all over the world, without taking into account the Arab occupants of the land. There were continued efforts to change the demographic nature of the land. A Security Council resolution clearly reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinian people to natural resources. Israeli actions reflected a flagrant violation of international instruments, he said, and rights of all those who had been dispossessed, should be restored.

MARWAN A. JILANI, of the Observer mission of Palestine, said that the ESCWA report gave a clear picture of Israel's ongoing colonial policy, its settlements and the resulting destructive consequences for Palestinian people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian people in the occupied Syrian Golan.

He objected to the report's apparent reference to Jerusalem as separate from the West Bank.

He said that committees of the Palestinian environment Ministry had recently determined that Israel was dumping dangerous refuse in Palestinian areas, including 80-plus tons of chemical waste, in one instance. That was a serious violation of the Palestinian right to its natural resources and showed that a spirit of domination was pervasive in the Israeli administration. Despite all those difficulties, he said, the Palestinians were trying to build a country.

STEVEN MILLER of the International Labour Organization said employment was central to sustainable development within the territories. As of September 1997, it was estimated that 35 per cent of the Palestinian labour force was employed as wage labourers within the territories, whereas some 12 per cent was employed as wage labour in Israel. In addition, over 21 per cent of the Palestinian labour force was unemployed. The continued high level of unemployment and the limited proportion of wage jobs that were stable or otherwise satisfying raised the challenge of job creation.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was willing to assist the Palestinian Authority in putting in place policies and institutions to reduce unemployment. There could be no long-lasting improvement in the situation of workers in the Palestinian and other Arab occupied territories without economic development, accompanied by employment, training for workers and managerial staff, strengthening of employers' and workers' organizations and more efficient social institutions.

ZAID AL-HADIDI (Jordan) said Israel had attempted to change the demographic nature of the occupied territories through land confiscation and settlement. Despite Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, Israel continued its practices. Israel's settlement policy had reduced the amount of natural resources available to Arabs and that had an adverse impact on Arab agriculture efforts. Israel was unfairly exploiting water resources, aggravating a situation of scarcity and depriving Arabs of the use of those resources. Israel had limited the use of water by Arabs to personal use only, depriving them of the ability to farm. Also, Israeli factories in the occupied territories could, with impunity, indulge in practices that would not be tolerated in Israel itself. Jordan had spared no efforts in promoting the peace process and supporting its Palestinian brothers. Peace and development were indivisible and a fundamental human right. It would be impossible to establish peace while people continued to be deprived of their rights.

YORAM ELRON (Israel) said that, in light of the positive breakthrough of the Wye River Memorandum signed days ago, it was regrettable that the Committee should be discussing the current topic. It was, at best, superfluous to the work of the Committee. It was, moreover, already covered extensively by the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement signed on 28 September 1995. And it was again included in the Wye Memorandum, which stipulated that both sides reaffirmed their commitment to actively promote economic development and cooperation. Those were the appropriate fora for such issues.

The peace process depended on the support of the international community, he added. Support meant, first and foremost, upholding the principle of direct negotiations. Support also meant creating an atmosphere conducive to achieving progress in the negotiations, not a climate of political confrontations. In particular, support called for adopting resolutions that reflected the positive developments in the process and the hope for a better future in the region. Unfortunately, today's debate contributed nothing at all to the cooperative spirit of the peace process. On the contrary, by raising issues here that sought to predetermine the outcome of permanent status negotiations, this report ran counter to the driving principle of the whole process, namely that Israel and the Palestinians must resolve those issues directly. His country strongly urged the Committee to devote its efforts to matters more worthy of its attention.


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