UNISPAL Home

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


GA/SPD/68
30 October 1995

MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS IN GAZA INHIBITING UNRWA'S WORK, COMMISSIONER-GENERAL TELLS FOURTH COMMITTEE

Agency Fulfils Critical Mission in Transition to Peace, He Says; Israel States Willingness to Assist, But Stresses Security Concerns


Despite very good relations with Israel, restrictions on movement in the Gaza Strip were inhibiting the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Ilter Turkmen, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as it began consideration of the Agency's work.

Mr. Turkmen said UNRWA operations were hampered as never before. Its ability to move personnel and supplies had "seriously deteriorated" as a result of increasing constraints in the Gaza Strip. Such impositions were inconsistent with United Nations privileges and immunities and agreements between UNRWA and Israel, and did not bode well for the relocation of UNRWA headquarters from Vienna to Gaza. He had written a letter to the Israeli Foreign Minister expressing serious concern about the restrictions and had received a constructive reply, he said.

As a result of the peace process, Mr. Turkmen said, donors had shown increased interest in funding the Agency's projects and there had been a "massive investment" in the physical infrastructure and human resources for the Palestinians. Even so, the Agency's financial situation was still a serious concern. The 1995 estimated budget deficit of $4 million was the third fiscal year ending with a shortfall, despite cost-cutting measures. The Agency would be strained to the maximum if it were to maintain the same level of services to the refugees over the next two years and respond to emergencies. The UNRWA was "fulfilling a critical mission in a historic transition" and deserved the full support of the international community, he said.

Responding to the concerns expressed by Mr. Turkmen, the representative of Israel said fanatical organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were doing everything to jeopardize the peace process and to challenge the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and leadership. The UNRWA did not function isolated from the environment created by such murderous acts. Israel was making every effort to facilitate and assist the Agency, and requested its understanding and forbearance.

"At this most fragile stage of the peace process, we require huge efforts to provide security and stability for all people in Israel and the territories", he continued. As for the Committee's work, there should be only one UNRWA resolution related to its humanitarian tasks. It was essential to refrain from any reference to such issues as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed would be dealt with bilaterally, within the framework of the permanent status negotiations.

The observer for Palestine said the international community should continue to reaffirm its position on the repatriation and compensation of Palestinian refugees, and to provide needed assistance to UNRWA. The Agency's responsibilities and operations should not be transferred to the Palestinian National Authority unless it was part of a comprehensive solution to the refugee problem. It was absolutely premature to even contemplate a limit on UNRWA's existence. It was much more important to affirm the role of the Agency.

Several speakers stressed the importance of UNRWA's continued existence as a vital part of the peace process and deplored its current financial problems. They urged the international community to continue to assist the Palestinian people by supplying the Agency with the necessary resources.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Jordan, United States, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Turkey, Japan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia and Libya.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 3 p.m. to continue its consideration of the work of UNRWA.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin its consideration of the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). It had before it a report of the Agency's Commissioner-General covering the period from 1 July 1994 to 30 June 1995, an addendum to the report on UNRWA financing, as well as a report from the working group on financing and reports of the Secretary-General on grants and scholarships for Palestinian refugees, revenues derived from refugee properties, persons displaced as a result of 1967 hostilities and the University of Jerusalem.

According to the Commissioner-General's report (document A/50/13), the last year was marked by a further development of the Middle East peace process and a broadening of UNRWA's efforts to play an active role in the transitional period by bringing about substantive improvements in the socio-economic conditions of Palestine refugees. Arrangements for Palestinian autonomy took a significant step forward with the evolution of the Palestinian Authority into a functioning administrative body with responsibility in the self-rule areas of the Gaza Strip and Jericho and a number of sectors of the West Bank. The UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, working closely together, focused on eduction, health, relief and social services in preparation for an eventual handover of services to the Authority. The UNRWA also undertook longer term socio-economic initiatives for the refugees and made considerable progress in relocating its Vienna headquarters to the Gaza Strip.

Events during the year were underpinned by the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in September 1993, and the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area signed at Cairo on 4 May 1994. Following the redeployment of Israeli security forces away from the main population centres in the Gaza and their withdrawal from the self-rule area of Jericho, the Chairman of the PLO arrived in the Gaza Strip in July 1994 and began exercising his duties as head of the Palestinian Authority.

After the 29 August 1994 agreement on the preparatory transfer of powers and responsibilities, control over education, culture, health, social welfare, tourism and taxation passed from Israel to the Palestinian Authority, even as the greater part of the West Bank remained under Israeli control. The Gaza Strip became the focal point of UNRWA relations with the Palestinian leadership. For the first time, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were able to manage their own affairs, albeit in limited spheres of civilian life. Thousands of refugees, mainly employees of the Palestinian Authority and members of the Palestinian Police Force and their families, returned to the areas.

As of mid-1995, the report states, there were ongoing negotiations on the further redeployment of Israeli troops away from the civilian areas, the holding of Palestinian elections and the further release of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians in the self-rule areas, who make up 22 per cent of refugees registered with UNRWA, were no longer subjected to daily curfews. Commercial activity had been restored to normal working hours and UNRWA schools, clinics and community centres functioned with minimal disruption for the first time since December 1987. The international community devoted unprecedented resources to improving infrastructure and promoting socio- economic development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had been long neglected.

The development of an infrastructure to provide services for the refugee population remained a top UNRWA priority under its regular programmes and its Peace Implementation Programme (PIP), which was launched in October 1993. The Agency's most ambitious undertaking -- a 232-bed Gaza General Hospital -- was expected to be completed in early 1996. Construction also began on a College of Nursing and Allied Health Services that would be affiliated with the hospital. The Agency also began installation of a $4.3 million internal sewerage system in Beach camp to improve sanitation conditions for 63,000 residents. The UNRWA also worked to improve and expand the infrastructure recently taken over by the Palestinian Authority from the Israeli Civil Administration, building a secondary school, renovating 14 Palestinian Authority schools, upgrading municipal garbage depository sites and undertaking maintenance on existing water and sewerage systems.

The Agency attended the Multilateral Working Group on Refugees in Antalya, Turkey in December 1994 and participated in inter-sessional technical meetings on family reunification, public health, databases and inventory of health to Palestinian refugees. It also worked closely with the Secretary- General's Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories and a number of United Nations agencies. By mid-1995, $4 million had been pledged or contributed allowing construction to begin on UNWRA's new headquarters in the Gaza Strip and the Commissioner-General opened an office in Gaza in November 1994. By mid 1995, there were 16 headquarters staff in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the report, the final resolution of the refugee problem, the timing of the handover of UNRWA services to the Palestinian Authority and the dissolution of the Agency had caused uncertainty among the refugee community and Agency staff. With 21,000 employees and a well established infrastructure and services, UNRWA was regarded as a force for stability. An informal meeting of donors in Amman in March 1995 agreed that UNRWA was a crucial element in the success of the peace process and no time-limit should be placed on its existence until a political solution to the refugee problem was found.

The UNRWA proposed a five-year financing and planning horizon to coincide with the interim period set out in the Declaration of Principles, the report continues. It was agreed that the eventual transfer of UNRWA's operations to the Palestinian Authority should be made when political, economic and financial conditions permitted, and at the Authority's request. Until then, the Agency should focus on the harmonization of services and coordination with other agencies operating in the field.

Describing political conditions in the region, the report says that, despite significant progress in the implementation of the agreements between Israel and the PLO, conditions in the West Bank remained tense. The Agency was particularly concerned with the ongoing restriction on movement imposed by Israeli authorities. Palestinians holding identification cards from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were prohibited from entering East Jerusalem and Israel without a special permit. A separate permit was required for Palestinians to hold a job in Israel and travel to their place of work. Those measures restricted the flow of people, goods and services between the two areas and within the West Bank itself.

On several occasions, Israeli authorities had sealed the West Bank and Gaza entirely, preventing those with valid permits from entering Israel and East Jerusalem. Following a bomb incident in Bei Lid on 22 January, in which 21 Israelis were killed and 60 injured, the West Bank and Gaza were sealed completely for two weeks. After a 21 March incident in which a truck driver from the Gaza tried to explode a bomb in Israel, temporary restrictions were imposed on the entry and exit of commodities from the Gaza.

The permit system and the intermittent sealing of the West Bank exacerbated the economic hardship there, states the report. As a significant proportion of the Palestinian labour force relied on employment in Israel, those measures had a direct impact on the income of thousands of families. In response, UNRWA undertook emergency food distributions in July 1994 and March 1995. The limited outbreak of cholera in the Gaza in late 1994 was an example of the poor economic and social conditions in which the refugees lived. The Agency was concerned that, despite the international community's generous assistance for reconstruction and development, the continued lack of improvement in the socio-economic circumstances of refugees would jeopardize the peace process.

Restriction on movement and security measures imposed by Israeli authorities continued to interfere with UNRWA's operations with undue delays at border crossings and searches of official vehicles and in one instance a diplomatic pouch was inspected. There were also lengthy delays in obtaining clearance from Israeli authorities for construction projects in the West Bank. The UNRWA was deeply concerned with the nature and frequency of such incidents, particularly in view of the relocation of its headquarters to the Gaza Strip.

The Commissioner-General reports that relations with Jordan remained "excellent", as the Agency worked to build up its headquarters in Amman. Some 40 per cent of the refugees registered with UNRWA were located in Jordan, where they benefited from Government services and enjoyed a relatively high degree of socio-economic well being and security. The Jordanian Government and UNRWA worked together with the opening of government schools near refugee camps, alleviating overcrowding in Agency schools. However, there had been increased demand for special hardship assistance and medical care at Agency clinics.

The Agency remained seriously concerned at the situation for Palestine refugees living in Lebanon, who faced serious constraints in finding jobs. The report noted the sharply increased need for funds for hospitalization and the problems of displaced Palestinian families. However, the Agency had completed a number of projects including a sewrage system at Burj el-Barajneh camp and a multi-story housing project in the Ein el-Hilweh camp for 118 families. It had also received 1,600 more Palestinian pupils than in the 1994-1995 academic year.

In Syria, historically close ties with the Government contributed to the smooth functioning of UNRWA programmes. The Agency had worked closely with the Syrian Ministry of Health to coordinate measures for disease surveillance and control and arranged in-kind donations of medical supplies. The movement of refugees to the Gaza Strip and Jordan had led to a decreased school enrolment in UNRWA schools, although overcrowding was a severe problem.

The UNRWA continued to fulfil it basic mission to provide essential education, health and relief and social services to the 3.2 million Palestine refugees registered with the Agency in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There were 408,861 elementary, preparatory and secondary pupils enrolled in UNRWA's 644 schools during the 1994-1995 academic year and 4,568 participated in its vocational and technical courses at eight Agency training centres. University scholarships were awarded to 863 students.

Refugees had guaranteed access to primary health care through the Agency's 123 health centres, including 76 dental clinics, as well as specialist clinics for paediatrics, diabetes, hypertension, cardiology, ophthalmology and obstetrics and gynaecology.

An addendum to report on financing contains information on the financial status of UNRWA in 1994, an assessment of the current financial situation in 1995 and the Agency's budget for 1996-1997, including an in-depth account of UNRWA's programmes. It also contains a short description of UNRWA's emergency operations and of its extrabudgetary activities.

The addendum states that the activities of UNRWA are almost exclusively funded by voluntary contributions and only 92 of its 134 international posts, or about 3 per cent of its expenditures, are funded by the United Nations regular budget. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fund several posts.

Owing to the recent political developments that had made it possible to foresee the eventual dissolution of UNRWA, the addendum states that the Agency's 1996-1997 budget contains a provision in the amount of $12.7 million yearly for termination indemnities for its 21,000 area staff, which had been agreed upon by the Agency's major donor and host governments at an informal meeting held in Amman, Jordan in March 1995. The total amount required to cover the separation benefits is estimated at $127 million.

The addendum states that the Agency's total General Fund budget for 1996-1997 amounts to $666.6 million, compared to the 1994-1995 budget of $632.2 million, representing an average annual increase of about 3 per cent. The growth rate represents the absolute minimum required to meet the increasing demand on the Agency's services caused by the natural growth of the refugee population and the necessity to cover minimal cost increases.

Of the $632.2 million for 1994-1995, the 1995 portion amounted to $323.2 million -- $290.6 million for the General Fund, $17.2 million for ongoing activities, and $15.4 million for capital and special projects. In order to avoid a deterioration of its financial situation, austerity measures were introduced in 1993 and carried forward into 1995, which had a negative impact on the quality of UNRWA's services. At the end of July 1995, UNRWA's estimated 1995 deficit was $16 million, which, if realized, would completely exhaust the Agency's working capital.

The report of the Secretary-General on Offers by Member States of grants and scholarships for higher education, including vocational training, for Palestine refugees, (document A/50/450) states that in 1994-1995, Japan and Switzerland awarded scholarships to Palestine refugees through UNRWA's scholarship programme. In 1994, WHO received 42 applications from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for fellowships scheduled to begin in late 1995. Four scholarships were offered by the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy, Pearson College in Canada, Armand Hammer College in the United States and the Li Po Chun in Hong Kong in 1995.

The Technical Assistance Programme of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) for the training of Palestinians was defined after a mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in March 1995. The Palestinian post office will be provided with two scholarships, one in the field of marketing and the other in the field of postal services, within the framework of UPU technical assistance to the Arab countries for 1995.

The report of the working group on UNRWA financing (document A/50/491) contains information on the origin and background of the working group, its activities during 1995, the financial situation of UNRWA and concluding remarks. It states that the working group held two meetings, on 14 September and 13 October 1995, to consider the recent developments in UNRWA's financial situation and to prepare its report to the General Assembly.

The working group said it was concerned that UNRWA had been able to carry out its regular activities only by drawing on its working capital reserves in 1994 and the expected shortfall again in 1995. It expressed particular concern about the negative cumulative effect of austerity measures taken by the Agency to reduce its chronic budget deficits. It says it shares the Commissioner-General's concern that the education, health care and relief and social services to Palestine refugees were increasingly vulnerable due to the budget deficits.

The Secretary-General's report on revenues derived from Palestine refugee properties (document A/50/428), states that he received a reply from Israel dated 8 June 1995 in response to his request that the Israeli Government provide information on the steps it had taken to implement relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions 49/35 A to G of 9 December 1994. One resolution (49/35 F) called upon Israel to render all facilities and assistance to the Secretary-General in protecting Arab property, assets and property rights in Israel and to establish a fund for the receipt of income derived on behalf of the rightful owners.

In its reply, Israel reiterates that the resolutions regarding UNRWA remain occupied with political issues irrelevant to the work for which UNRWA was responsible, and thus detached from the new reality. It states that Israel believes UNRWA can play an important role in promoting the social and economic advancement foreseen in the agreements between Israel and the PLO, and looks forward to continuing to cooperate with UNRWA.

The report of the Secretary-General on persons displaced as result of June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/50/451) states that UNRWA was not involved in any arrangements for the return of refugees nor was it involved in any arrangements for the return of displaced persons who were not registered as refugees. Its information is based on requests by returning registered refugees for transfer of their entitlements for services to the areas to which they have returned and subsequent correction of records. So far as is known to the Agency, between 1 July 1994 and 30 June 1995, 244 refugees registered with UNRWA returned to the West Bank and 726 to the Gaza Strip. Thus, the estimated number of displaced registered refugees who were known by the Agency to have returned to the occupied territories since June 1967 was about 14,170. The Agency was unable to estimate the total number of displaced inhabitants who have returned.

In the report of the Secretary-General on the University of Jerusalem "Al-Quds" (document A/50/531), the Secretary-General states that the Rector of the United Nations University had, at his request, made available Dr. Mihaly Simai to assist in the preparation of a functional feasibility study on the proposed university at Jerusalem. The expert was to visit the area and meet with the competent Israeli officials on the issue. However, the Secretary- General states that it had not been possible to complete the feasibility study due to the position of the Israeli Government. In a letter to the Secretary- General dated 18 September 1995, the Government of Israel stated that the sponsors of the measure sought to "exploit the field of higher education for political purposes totally extraneous to genuine academic pursuits", and that the proposed visit of Dr. Mihaly Simai would serve no useful purpose.

Statement by Commissioner-General of UNRWA

ILTER TURKMEN, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the year had again been a milestone in the search for peace in the Middle East. As a new horizon unfolded, it should be remembered that the principal victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict were the Palestine refugees, with whose fate UNRWA had been concerned for 45 years.

Today, he continued, the 3.2 million Palestine refugees, and among them the 21,000 UNRWA staff, were eagerly awaiting a solution to the refugee problem, as foreseen in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The situation facing the Agency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was evolving rapidly. Over the past year, the Palestinian Authority had been consolidated and UNRWA's cooperation with it had increased. However, effective UNRWA operations also required the support of Israeli authorities, who remained in control of borders, customs, security, and movement into and out of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Despite very good relations with the Israeli Government, operations were hampered as never before.

He said UNRWA attached great importance to contributing a unified United Nations response in support of the peace process. The meeting of UNRWA's major donors, host governments and Advisory Commission Members, which took place in Amman, Jordan in March, had agreed that Agency services were a "key element in the success of the peace process" and would continue to be required until a political solution to the refugee problem was found.

Highlighting new areas in which UNRWA had focused its attention over the past five years, Mr. Turkmen pointed to a number of achievements in the areas of social infrastructure, income generation, environmental health, women's programme centres, family planning, and assistance to the Palestinian Authority. He said international support for the peace process had resulted in heightened interest by donors in funding projects in the Agency's area of operations.

Continuing, he said UNRWA had undertaken projects which far surpassed its traditional level of activity. Budget allocations for funded projects stood at $92.6 million in 1995 compared to $8.5 million in 1991. In the two years since it was created, the Peace Implementation Programme attracted $152 million in pledges and contributions. A wide variety of projects over the past five years including the construction of 53 schools, 14 health centres, the establishment of 13 women's programme centres, and construction of about 1,300 garbage depository sites constituted a "massive investment in the physical infrastructure and human resources available to the Palestinian people now and for the future".

With regard to the expulsion of Palestinians from Libya, he said UNRWA was concerned with the situation and had been closely monitoring developments. The UNRWA stood ready to provide humanitarian services to those refugees registered with the Agency in its area of operations. The UNRWA was providing medical attention, and blankets and baby food to the Palestinians stranded at the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza. In conjunction with UNHCR, UNRWA was sending a mission to the Saloum camp on the Libyan-Egyptian border to assess the situation.

Mr. Turkmen said the financial situation facing UNRWA remained a matter of serious concern. The Agency estimated a 1995 deficit of $4 million, which would be the third fiscal year ended with a shortfall, despite the continuation of austerity measures and the introduction of cost-saving measures. The Agency would be strained to the maximum if it were to maintain the same level of services to the refugees over the next two years and respond to emergencies. He had sent a message to the Secretary-General of the Arab League asking him to approach Arab donors for a combined contribution to UNRWA in 1996 of $10 million, which would raise their contribution from 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

Mr. Turkmen said the relocation of the Agency's Vienna Headquarters to the Gaza Strip was proceeding. A detailed budget and action plan had been developed and concrete steps had been taken. The construction of a new headquarters building in Gaza began earlier this month. To date, more than $5 million in pledges and contributions had been received for the move, less than half of the $13.5 million budgeted cost.

Turning to the current situation in the occupied territories, he expressed concern at "an increasing degree of constraints" on UNRWA operations in the Gaza Strip,as a result of restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli authorities. As a result, he said the Agency's ability to move personnel and supplies had "seriously deteriorated". For example, Palestinian staff were required to obtain permits to travel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip or to enter Israel. Very often, fresh orders were issued requiring the Agency to obtain new permits each time. The UNRWA vehicles were searched at checkpoints and the Agency's diplomatic pouch had on occasion been inspected.

He said there was now a ban on the entry into Jerusalem of UNRWA employees with West Bank identity cards who were male and under 30 years of age. Three additional restrictions had been announced in the past two months. Such impositions did not bode well for the forthcoming move of the headquarters to Gaza. They were inconsistent with the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and the agreements of UNRWA with Israeli authorities. If such restrictions were enforced on a continuous basis, the move would result in an "unacceptable loss of operational capacity and financial resources for the Agency". Such restrictions could render it impossible for UNRWA to carry out its headquarters operations and field offices in Gaza and the West Bank.

Mr. Turkmen said he had written a letter to the Israeli Foreign Minister expressing his serious concern about the restrictions imposed on UNRWA staff and the harassments to which they had so often been subjected. He had received a reply from him written in a constructive spirit, and he hoped that a modus operandi could be urgently worked out.

In conclusion, he said UNRWA had achieved a lot during the past four to five years when the Agency was in the contradictory position of planning for its eventual dissolution and also continuously expanding. Despite financial constraints, programmes had been carried out without reduction, the Peace Implementation Programme was successfully initiated and developed, the Agency arranged the transfer of all its operational departments to Amman without any negative impact, and the transfer to Gaza had begun. He said UNRWA was "fulfilling a critical mission in a historic transition" and deserved the full support of the General Assembly, concerned countries and donor states.

FEDA ABDELHADY, observer for Palestine, said consideration of UNRWA was one of the most important General Assembly items to her delegation. The item dealt with the issue of Palestine refugees -- the oldest and biggest refugee problem in the world. Resolutions adopted by the Assembly should reflect that reality. The international community should assure the Palestine refugees that they would not be forgotten and that their rights would be safeguarded until they were realized.

She said the international community must continue to reaffirm its position with regard to the repatriation and compensation of refugees, and to provide the needed assistance in support of the valuable work of UNRWA. Her delegation was satisfied with the cooperative working relationship between the Agency and the Palestinian National Authority, and welcomed the progress made thus far in relocating UNRWA headquarters from Vienna to Gaza. However, it was unfortunate that the Agency had been able to achieve only limited progress in that regard, due to financial constraints and restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities.

She did not support any current transfer of the Agency's responsibilities and operations to the Palestinian National Authority, as any transfer should be part of a comprehensive solution of the refugee problem. It was absolutely premature to even contemplate a limit on UNRWA's existence. It was much more important to affirm the role of the Agency. It was absolutely necessary to continue and improve the services of UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Projects under the Peace Implementation Programme had been exceedingly productive and the Agency should be applauded for its work.

She said it was unfortunate that once again UNRWA had reported continuing difficulties due to restrictive and punitive measures by Israel. Such practices as the closure or sealing of the occupied territories and the imposition of stricter measures at checkpoints continued to hinder, at times prevent, the movement of UNRWA staff and supplies. The practices interfered with the Agency's ability to operate and exacerbated already difficult circumstances.

The situation of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons had not been completely resolved and remained of high concern, she continued. Another serious problem was the continuation of construction in settlements in the occupied territory, including Jerusalem, the expropriation of Palestinian lands and the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli authorities during the period under review. She expressed the hope that those measures would cease immediately.

FAUD BATAINEH (Jordan) said his country was host to the largest number of Palestine refugees, having absorbed them from 1948 through the June 1967 war and finally, huge numbers as a result of the displacement caused by the Persian Gulf War. They had placed a heavy financial and social burden on Jordan's infrastructure and a heavier burden on the State treasury. The solution of the Palestinian refugee problem was one of the most important pillars of the peace settlement. The UNRWA should continue its work and offer its services in all areas of its operation until the Palestine refugee question was solved in the framework of a just, comprehensive and permanent solution to the Middle East conflict.

He said his Government shared the Commissioner-General's concern over UNRWA's deteriorating financial situation. The cumulative budget deficit could seriously affect the Agency's ability to carry out its mandate. Noting the indication in the Commissioner-General's report that big reductions might be made in UNRWA's services in 1996, he said the international community had failed notably in not providing the necessary funds for the Agency's programmes, although its budget was far less than what was needed to provide a minimum acceptable level of services to the Palestine refugees. Jordan had been forced to provide direct services valued at $250 million annually to meet the refugees needs. Any reduction in UNRWA's services would impose additional heavy burdens on his Government.

The problem of the Palestine refugees was one, indivisible problem and the refugees were a single unit, regardless of what area they occupied. Their cause was one. Their basic needs were the same. Any discrimination in services provided to them would be unrealistic and not serve the cause of peace. The transfer of UNRWA's headquarters from Vienna to its area of operations would not diminish its effectiveness, performance or operational efficiency.

EDWARD GNEHM (United States) said he was pleased to reaffirm his Government's full support for the work of UNRWA and for an extension of UNRWA's mandate. The Agency had played an invaluable role in assisting Palestinian refugees at a very difficult and crucial time. The United States believed that UNRWA's role would remain a vital one during the period of its new mandate.

He said the United States welcomed the moving of UNRWA headquarters to the region, and had already contributed $2 million towards the move. As UNRWA's largest single donor, the United States was pleased that the Agency's financial situation for 1995 indicated a nearly fully funded General Fund, as well as a strong donor response to the Peace Implementation Programme. The United States underscored the need to keep expenditures within funding levels.

He said UNRWA needed to consider adjustments in its task as the peace process evolved and the needs of the Palestinian refugee community changed. Increased consultation between UNRWA and the advisory and donor governments were a necessary part of that process. The United States hoped that the international community would extend full support and cooperation to UNRWA to help it carry out its mandate.

JAVIER PEREZ-GRIFFO (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said recent transformations in the peace process had brought new tasks and challenges to the work of UNRWA, which due to its long experience was in a unique position to buttress that process. The importance of its contributions were beyond doubt. However, the assistance provided by UNRWA was temporary and could be no substitute for a lasting political solution. One day its intervention would not be needed. Meanwhile, the Agency's services were a crucial element in the success of the peace process and should continue until a political solution to the refugee problems was found.

He welcomed the concrete steps taken by the Agency to assist the nascent Palestinian Authority as it expanded its operational and institutional capacities. He also welcomed steps taken to relocate the Agency's headquarters from Vienna to the Gaza Strip and a number of the Agency's departments, including those of health, relief and social services in Amman, Jordan. The Agency's financial situation was a cause of great concern. It was untenable that regular Agency programmes should be increasingly threatened by structural deficits. That would send the wrong signal to the region. He called upon States which had contributed in the past to intensify their support and those who had not done so to contribute financially to the success of the Middle East peace process. With more than $179 million, the European Union had in 1994 again been the main contributor to UNRWA's operations. The European Commission was negotiating a convention between the community and UNRWA to govern the community's contribution to the Agency for 1996-1998.

HUSEYIN E. CELEM (Turkey) said important developments in the Middle East peace process, such as the recent agreement signed in Washington D.C. between Israel and Palestine, were decisive steps towards peace. However, they had not reduced UNRWA's task. Although it was meant to be a temporary organization, it was only recently that the international community could feel optimistic and look forward to dissolving UNRWA. The untiring efforts of the Commissioner-General and the heightened interest of donors in supporting the peace process had resulted in a gratifying result for PIP. With that programme, the Agency had built a solid infrastructure for the Palestinian people and created new employment opportunities for them.

However, UNRWA's regular budget had a deficit of $6 million in 1994 and prospects for the current year were not much better, he continued. Taking into account the fact that the Agency had been operating under austerity measures since 1993, the shortfall became more striking. He called on Member States who had not yet contributed to the Agency to do so. Those who had made relatively small contributions should increase them. Those who had made generous contributions must continue and strive to increase them. His Government had increased its modest cash contributions to the 1995 budget by 50 per cent over 1994. It had pledged $125,000 for the regular budget and $25,000 for the move of UNRWA headquarters to Gaza.

TOSHIHIRO TAKAHASHI (Japan) welcomed the signing of the agreement on interim self-rule between Israel and the Palestinians on 28 September and expressed the hope that both parties would continue to advance the peace process.

He said there was a real need to continue and further enhance UNRWA's activities. The Agency should continue to provide administrative assistance to the Palestinian people in the transitional period, particularly in the self-rule areas. It should also undertake short-term projects in the self- rule areas to create employment opportunities and thereby increase revenues through taxation.

He said the improvement of the Palestinians' living conditions and the establishment of economic independence were essential for the stability of interim self-rule. Of the $200 million pledged by Japan in 1993 to assist the Palestinians, $150 million had already been extended. In 1995, Japan contributed $2 million to cover costs associated with the transfer of UNRWA headquarters from Vienna. Japan also pledged $18 million to UNRWA's regular programme budget, representing an increase of $500,000 over last year's contribution.

He stressed the importance of renewing UNRWA's mandate and reorganizing and consolidating resolutions concerning UNRWA, as any draft resolution should be supportive of the peace process. The UNRWA's mandate should be considered at the current session of the General Assembly and extended for another three years. Greater coordination between the Agency and the Palestinian Authority was needed and a resolution should be adopted at the current session to affirm the importance of coordination, requesting the Secretary-General to devise a plan of action to facilitate such coordination. The UNRWA was a works agency designed to provide assistance to Palestine refugees. It was not an organization for the delivery of development aid. Thus, UNRWA should strictly limit itself to short-term projects that would have an immediate impact on the Palestinian people in terms of job creation and improvements in their living standard.

FAROUK AL-ATTAR (Syria) thanked UNRWA for its programmes to help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians and improve their living conditions, which were deteriorating every day. Under the difficult conditions facing the Palestinians, the General Assembly resolution stipulating the right of Palestinians to return to their homes from which they had been expelled should be recalled. The international community must help them achieve that right. The work of the Agency was provisional, ending with the return of refugees to their homes. Any attempt aimed at settling refugees elsewhere constituted a violation of their human rights and would not lead to security in the region.

He said the Commissioner-General had referred in his report to the difficulties encountered in moving Agency headquarters to Gaza. Syria objected to the transfer of the Agency, which could impact negatively on the work of the Agency and the services it provided to the refugees. The office in Amman should be strengthened. The report also referred to budget problems and he believed it was necessary to study other options to cover the deficit. Donor countries should increase pledges, since austerity measures could lead to a decrease in services.

He hoped the Commissioner-General would review the programme budget for Syria and increase allocations. Further, the next report should include data and real figures on what Syria offered to the Palestinian refugees. He hoped the day would come when the international community would be able to implement its resolutions and Palestinian refugees could return to the homes and lands from which they had been expelled. Then UNRWA could come to an end.

SALEH ALGHAMDI (Saudi Arabia) said that since its establishment as a short-term agency, UNRWA had made considerable efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian refugees and help them fulfil their hopes of returning home. Despite many difficulties, including a lack of material resources, increasing numbers of refugees and growing demands to meet their educational and health needs, UNRWA had continued to fulfil its task in a way that deserved gratitude.

Recent developments in the Middle East peace process must have roused hopes in Palestinian refugees that they would soon be able to return home, he said. But that hope would not be realized unless there was an increase in efforts and a lessening of the procrastination, mainly by Israel, which affected the peace talks. He called on the international community to supply the resources necessary for UNRWA to carry out its tasks. His Government had given material and regular financial assistance to the Agency, so demonstrating its belief in the importance of UNRWA'S work. He hoped a lasting peace would be achieved and conditions created that would allow the Palestinian refugees to return home. He urged Israel to honour its commitments to peace, so the displaced could achieve their dream.

ELI SHAKED (Israel) said the new agreement signed 28 September 1995 between his Government and the Palestinian Authority reflected the genuine desire of both sides to implement all of the understandings and agreements reached thus far regarding the establishment of a Palestinian interim self- rule authority.

He said implementation of the following three major tasks was now under way: completing the transfer of civil powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority; accomplishing within the scheduled time-frame the staged redeployment of the Israeli military forces in "Zone A" in the West Bank; and concluding all commitments to enable the Palestinians to run free and democratic elections for their Council and for the chairmanship of their executive authority. The successful completion of these tasks was a test and a target for both parties. The interim period was an integral part of the progression towards the next critical stage, which would be discussions on the permanent status of the territories beginning May 1996.

He said difficulties accompanied the peace process, including a continuous wave of terrorist actions by suicide bombers. Fanatical organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were doing everything to jeopardize the peace process and to challenge the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and leadership. The UNRWA did not function isolated from the environment created by such murderous acts. While every effort was being made to facilitate and assist the Agency, Israel requested the necessary understanding and forbearance of UNRWA. "At this most fragile stage of the peace process, we require huge efforts to provide security and stability for all people in Israel and the territories", he said. Israel took issue with the manner in which the annual report of UNRWA described various incidents that occurred in the territories during the past year, as well as with the report's inclusion of political issues beyond the scope of UNRWA's mandate.

He said the Committee should focus its resolutions concerning UNRWA only on issues directly related to the Agency's humanitarian tasks. Israel called on the Committee to refrain from adopting resolutions related to political issues. The number of UNRWA resolutions should be reduced to one, directly related to the Agency's humanitarian tasks. That would be more compatible with the essential need to refrain from any reference to such issues as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements that Israel and the PLO agreed would be dealt with on a bilateral basis, within the framework of the permanent status negotiations.

AMER ALI AL-MUTAIRI (Kuwait) said his Government was distressed at the poor living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, due to the continuation of oppressive Israeli practices and policies. Those policies included the sealing off of the West Bank and Gaza, restriction of movement and illegal arrests and the detainment of Palestinians. Such practices impeded the economic, social and humanitarian lives of the Palestinian people and the work of UNRWA, especially when the restriction on movement and security measures were imposed on the Agency.

He welcomed and supported the recent signing of the Palestinian-Israeli interim agreement on 25 September, which provided for the expansion of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank. Hopefully, he said, further positive developments would materialize on the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese front, which would lead to a just and lasting peace. His Government had supported the peace process with its ongoing financial support of $1.5 million to UNRWA's regular budget and the payment of $21 million, out of a $25 million pledge, for the financing of development projects in Palestinian autonomous areas. On the political front, it had also participated in multilateral meetings that developed from the Middle East process.

EL WALID DOUDECH (Tunisia) said the role played by UNRWA was of crucial importance during the current peace process. Its role was essential until all responsibilities had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The role of UNRWA would conclude only when the refugee problem was solved and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East was established, in accordance with General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.

The work of UNRWA should be encouraged and commended, he continued. In a time of financial austerity, UNRWA was doing its work honestly and effectively, and the Commissioner-General was doing an excellent job. The conditions facing the Agency would negatively affect the refugees and further complicate the peace process until its difficulties were overcome. The UNRWA's financial deficit was preventing it from improving its projects. The international community could play a crucial role in the peace process by supporting UNRWA, as ongoing financial support was the only thing that could make up the Agency's deficit.

OMAR R. JELBAN (Libya), speaking to clarify a point in the report of the Commissioner-General about Palestinians living in his country, said his Government appreciated UNRWA's efforts in recent years and the assistance given to the Palestinian people. It had always supported the Palestinians who lived in Libya. They had not been expelled from Libya but had decided to return to their home country. All the assistance provided by UNRWA could not take the place of a homeland. So why had UNRWA not helped the Palestinians return to their home? he asked. Why had UNRWA not asked Israel to guarantee Palestinians their homes?

Some people did not want the return of the Palestinians, he continued. Rather, they wanted them to continue to live as refugees and had conspired to prevent them from returning home. No solution to the Palestinian refugee problem could be found without taking into consideration their inalienable right to return to their homeland, their independence, their national autonomy and their right to create their homeland throughout the entire region of Palestine. The UNRWA must guarantee their right to return, in addition to giving them humanitarian support.


* *** *

______________________________________________________________________
For information media - not an official record