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


GA/SPD/69
31 October 1995

UNRWA'S ROLE VITAL TO MIDDLE EAST PEACE,
STATE SPEAKERS IN FOURTH COMMITTEE


The role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was vital if peace was to take root in the Middle East, several delegates told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as it concluded its consideration of the Agency's work.

The representative of Lebanon said UNRWA's services would be needed for a long time and it was premature to discuss the Agency's closure. Refugees outside Gaza and the West Bank should not feel bypassed by the peace process. His Government, as a host to many Palestinian refugees, needed financial support for its extensive programme to return the displaced and donors should make additional contributions for UNRWA programmes.

The observer of the League of Arab States said UNRWA's mandate should be extended until the refugee question was resolved. Attempts to reduce its services would have negative effects on the peace process. The refugee situation in the occupied territories had not improved because of Israeli actions that had limited UNRWA's work. The Committee should condemn the continued destruction of houses, confiscation of lands and closing of schools and mosques.

The observer of the Holy See said international guarantees regarding the status of Jerusalem should include: equality of rights and treatment for all believers of the three religions, whether they were local citizens or pilgrims; freedom of worship and access to the holy places; and the right of the three religious communities to exist and live in peace, pursuing their religious, cultural, civil and economic activities. The concept of a "Greater Jerusalem" would certainly have a negative impact on bilateral negotiations, which must move beyond the strictly political and include representatives of the three religions.

In closing remarks, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA clarified the Agency's position in reference to points made in a statement yesterday by the representative of Japan. He said UNRWA had good cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and was involved in human resource development, not long-term development projects.

The representatives of Canada, Botswana, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Australia, Malta, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Egypt and Oman also spoke.

Morocco and Algeria addressed the Committee on the question of Western Sahara.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m., Wednesday, 1 November, to consider the situation in the occupied territories of Croatia.

Committee Work Programme

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The Committee was also expected to conclude its consideration of the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). (For details see Press Release GA/SPD/68 issued 30 October.)

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Statements on UNRWA

RENATO R. MARTINO, observer of the Holy See, said the Director of an office of representation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to the Holy See would start his Mission in November. Such steps were vital for peace in the land called "holy" by Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, forces of extremism still worked against the peace process in the Middle East. Whatever the source of violence it must be condemned. The international community must use all reasonable means to support and sustain the activities of those seeking a comprehensive peace settlement.

For the Palestinian people, the allocation of appropriate material resources was essential if autonomy of governance was to have real meaning, he continued. Funding must reach Palestinian labourers, rather than foreign entrepreneurs. There was a very grave danger to the autonomous regions because of unemployment and underemployment. Employment was essential if elections were to have real meaning. A guarantee of jobs for Palestinians was one way to guarantee peace for Israel. Education of the young must also be addressed. Students must be able to attend classes without undue hindrance.

He expressed concern regarding the "Holy City of Jerusalem" and said international guarantees regarding its status should include: equality of rights and treatment for all believers of the three monotheistic religions, whether they were local citizens or pilgrims; freedom of worship and access to the Holy places; and the right of the three religious communities to exist and live in peace, pursuing their religious, cultural, civil and economic activities. He said he hoped no "undue effort" would be made to alter the demography of Jerusalem and its environs. The concept of a "Greater Jerusalem" would certainly have a negative impact on bilateral negotiations, which must move beyond the strictly political and include representatives of the three religions.

ROBERT R. FOWLER (Canada) congratulated UNRWA for its excellent work over the past year. The Agency continued to improve the lives of many refugees by developing essential infrastructure, despite restrictions on its freedom of movement. Those restrictions should not continue and they remained a source of grave concern to Canada.

He congratulated both Israelis and Palestinians for continuing peace discussions in order to reach a just and lasting peace based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Since the signature of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel a year ago, the two countries had achieved success in establishing bilateral relations and cooperation. Canada encouraged Israel, Syria and Lebanon to resume bilateral negotiations.

Efforts by UNRWA to coordinate its activities with the Palestinian Authority demonstrated its willingness to adapt to a changing situation, he continued. The working group on refugees benefitted from the Agency's expertise, resources and cooperation. As long as negotiations on the final status of Palestinian refugees were not concluded, the work of the Agency remained relevant. Its Peace Implementation Programme contributed to the transformation of the goals of the peace process into tangible benefits for the refugees.

He said Canada remained concerned over the Agency's lack of resources and had worked for an increase in contributions to its programmes. It was important to ensure that, as the peace process moved forward, the Agency continued to serve as a stabilizing force in the region. Any transfer of responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority should be planned carefully. The vast majority of displaced persons under the purview of UNRWA lived outside the West Bank and Gaza. Their situation remained disturbing and would be the subject of negotiations between the parties involved. The international community could not neglect them.

LEAPOTSWE BANTSI (Botswana) said United Nations assistance to refugees and displaced persons was one of its major humanitarian activities. UNRWA had worked tirelessly for many years to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. The Agency faced the challenge of providing adequate protection to the victims of conflict in a region of uncertainty and political instability.

She said no amount of service by UNRWA or any other United Nations agency could replace the attainment of a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict. It would be most significant if the United Nations were to celebrate the 50 years of its existence by ushering in a new era of peace and stability in the Middle East. That would serve UNRWA's mammoth responsibility of trying to provide humanitarian services against a background of hostility and distrust.

MAHMOUD ABOUL-NASR, observer of the League of Arab States, expressed total and continued support for the work of UNRWA. The meeting of the League last September asked for a continuation of the peace process based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and sounded and alarm with respect to Israeli delays in the second stage of autonomy. Concern had also been expressed over the status of Jerusalem. The UNRWA mandate should be extended until the question of the refugees was resolved. The Council of the Arab League also asked all Arab States to increase their contributions to UNRWA.

He said the League welcomed the steps taken in the direction of peace, but noted that much remained to be done. There were new obstacles which had to be overcome. The continuation of UNRWA's work should be ensured. All attempts to reduce its services would have negative effects on the peace process. The international community should continue to assist the Agency and the host country should continue to provide hospitality, so refugees could return to their lands.

He drew attention to the proposed University of Jerusalem for Palestinians and expressed the hope that Israel would facilitate the University's establishment. He expressed concern at the Agency's financial difficulties, and Israeli practices in the occupied territories. The refugee situation had not improved during the reporting period due to Israeli actions that limited UNRWA's work. Policies of destroying houses and confiscating lands, and closing schools and mosques, were continuing. Those acts should be condemned by the Committee. UNRWA should continue its work in Gaza and the West Bank and ensure that efforts were coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. The Agency was essential for the success of current peace efforts.

CHARIVAT SANTAPUTRA (Thailand) said UNRWA was one of the most admired United Nations organs and had played an unenviable role, preparing the ground for durable peace in the Middle East, where hatred and hostility had been the order of the day for more than 40 years. Efforts to achieve a durable peace had yielded concrete results with the signing of agreements between the parties. However, the international community should not relax its efforts to help refugees and the underprivileged in the region. It was paradoxical that while the political process was moving forward, the refugee problem had increased due to the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to their motherland.

He said UNRWA must be helped to fulfil its mandate at a crucial time, as the refugee plight was too much of a burden for one country. Having coped with many refugees along its borders and the burden they could cause, his country understood the importance of making sure UNRWA had adequate resources. Since 1977, Thailand had contributed $14,000 annually to the Agency's budget and in future would double its contributions to more than $30,000 annually. UNRWA deserved the international community's full support.

V. YOOGALINGAM (Malaysia) expressed appreciation for the work of UNRWA in helping Palestinian refugees. Its Peace Implementation Programme had improved infrastructure and stabilized living conditions in Gaza and Jericho. Malaysia was pleased that the programme had also been extended to include refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

He expressed concern over Israeli actions which impeded the work of UNRWA and called on Israel to cooperate fully with the Agency. He was also disturbed by the ongoing restrictions on movement in the West Bank and Gaza, which would exacerbate the economic hardship of Palestinians living in those areas. He was also disturbed over continued construction of settlements and expropriation of Palestinian land in Gaza and the West Bank.

He said UNRWA services were essential to the peace process and were required until a solution was found to the refugee problem. The transfer of responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority should be made when political, economic and financial conditions permitted and not before. Malaysia would continue to contribute to UNRWA. Those nations that could afford it should increase their contributions.

ZHANG WANHAI (China) said recent developments in the Middle East peace process had affected the situation of Palestinian refugees in particular and the region as a whole. Over the years the number of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA had increased to 3.1 million, which indicated how urgent a task was facing the Agency. The situation in the occupied areas had undergone significant changes in the last year and, as a result, the Agency would need to continue its existing work and play an even greater role in the peace process. It had done useful work in education, health, relief and social services, which had brought great benefits to many refugees. He hoped the other donor countries would make a significant effort to help the Agency to overcome its current financial problems.

HICHAM HAMDAN (Lebanon) said that as a host country for several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, Lebanon appreciated the work of UNRWA and would continue to support the Agency. Its services would be needed for a long time to come and it was premature to discuss the Agency's span of life. Refugees would continue to rely on UNRWA until they realized their right of return. The refugees outside Gaza and the West Bank should not feel that the peace process had bypassed them. Only a solution based on United Nations resolutions would lead to lasting peace.

He said the Lebanese people had paid with their lives for the Palestinian cause. They believed in the right of Palestinian self- determination and rejected any attempt for their settlement in Lebanon. The Government was now embarking on an extensive programme to return the displaced, which required financial support. He called on donors to make additional contributions for UNRWA programmes in Lebanon.

He reiterated Lebanon's reservation with regard to the transfer of UNRWA headquarters to Gaza. With Gaza under Israeli occupation, the transfer "cannot but hamper the activities of the Agency". The work of UNRWA had made a huge difference for thousands of families and individuals. Donor countries should continue to contribute to the Agency.

MOHAMED AL-SOWAIDI (United Arab Emirates) expressed appreciation for the work of UNRWA in assisting millions of Palestinian refugees for the past 45 years. He welcomed the signing of the recent peace agreement in September and said new developments required an increase in assistance to the Palestinians. Since the crisis began, the United Nations had provided relief assistance. The problem of the refugees was a result of Israel's refusal to implement resolutions on the right of the refugees to return and be compensated.

He expressed concern at the difficulties encountered by UNRWA and hoped that Israel would lift restrictions. In light of the progress in the peace process, the United Arab Emirates hoped that Palestinians would achieve their right to self-determinations, to a national state with the capital of Jerusalem, and to return to their homes.

ANASTASIA CARAYANIDES (Australia) said there must be economic development and improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians for peace in the Middle East to take root. That was why UNRWA's work was so vital. It had played and would continue to play a central role in promoting social and economic development in both the occupied territories and elsewhere in the region. Her Government was pleased UNRWA was cooperating effectively with the Palestinian Authority. The Agency's expertise, experience and skills would be important assets in the process of building institutions.

She said that, given the acknowledged importance of UNRWA's activities for the 3.2 million refugees, the Agency's mandate should be extended. Her Government supported steps to transfer UNRWA's headquarters to Gaza, as a way to demonstrate the international community's commitment to the peace process and for the benefits it would bring to Gaza. The move should not be permitted to have adverse implications for the Agency's operating efficiency. Her Government was a major contributor to UNRWA's project budget and had increased its contributions during 1994-1995.

JOSEPH CASSAR (Malta) said the breakthrough in the Middle East peace process forced a reassessment of activities related to Palestinian refugees. The question of refugees could now be coupled with a long-term vision of security and stability in the region. UNRWA was an active partner in the process leading to a viable solution to one of the oldest refugee problems. The Agency's work remained necessary and crucial until a political solution to the refugee problem was found within the framework of the peace process.

He commended UNRWA's work in the health, relief and social sectors, saying education remained the most crucial tool in the hands of present and future generations. Through its programmes, the Agency had striven to build a better life for the majority of the refugees. The Peace Implementation Programme played a key role in providing for refugees returning to Gaza. The rise in UNRWA registered refugees had strained resources, the lack of which impacted upon the Agency's quality of services.

He said the best guarantee for a peaceful transition was the building of a self-reliant society. Cooperation between UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority remained essential. The Agency had a necessary role to play in the newly emerging climate of peace. The Commissioner-General's comment that UNRWA operations were hampered as never before gave rise to serious concern.

MANJOOR RAHIM (Bangladesh) said UNRWA's role was changing with developments in the Middle East and he was pleased to see the close cooperation between the Agency and the Palestinian Authority. The Agency should receive the full support of the international community until its work was taken over by the Authority. Among the beneficiaries of UNRWA were second generation refugees whose needs had been addressed, but not without difficulty because of the lack of resources. The Agency had been the second biggest employer after the local government, with more than 99 per cent of its staff Palestinian people.

He hoped that once UNRWA's new headquarters in Gaza was fully operational, the Agency would be able to assist the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people more effectively. He noted with concern the constraints faced by the Agency in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. Israel should desist from harassing the Palestinian employees of UNRWA sent out on official missions.

BYONG HYUN LEE (Republic of Korea) expressed appreciation to the staff of UNRWA for their dedication and courage. Events were moving the peace process forward. Despite its financial constraints, UNRWA had made a decisive contribution towards improving the socio-economic infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Agency had shown a remarkable ability to provide various forms of aid to the Palestinians from immediate needs to long- term development assistance. Transferring its headquarters to the area would enhance the coordination of UNRWA with the Palestinian Authority.

He said the eventual transfer of operations to the Palestinian Authority should be made in close cooperation with, and at the request of, the Authority. Until that time, UNRWA should play a coordinating role. Recognizing that assistance to the Palestinians was vital to the peace process, the Republic of Korea would offer grants and loans of $12 million for the rehabilitation projects of the Palestinian people for the period between 1994-1998, in addition to its annual cash contribution.

ISSLAMET POERNOMO (Indonesia) commended the efforts of UNRWA in alleviating the plight of Palestinian refugees. His Government was pleased that significant steps had been taken to relocate the Agency's headquarters to the Gaza Strip, a move that should ensure the effective implementation of economic development activities and, more importantly, demonstrate the commitment of the United Nations to the peace in the region. It was essential that UNRWA continue its work and play a larger role in improving socio- economic conditions until a political solution was found. His Government would support UNRWA's prompt response to the evolving situation until the Agency had transferred its responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority.

There must be tangible improvements in the lives of the Palestinian community, he said. UNRWA's short- and medium-term projects under its Peace Implementation Programme gave priority to promoting the private sector through income initiatives. He welcomed the Agency's efforts to improve the infrastructure in Gaza which had suffered from long neglect.

ABDERAHMAN S. ABDERAHMAN (Egypt) said that for years the international community had expressed the hope that a comprehensive and just peace would be established in the Middle East, so that Palestinian refugees could return home. The signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 represented the first big step on the road to peace. That had been followed by other steps. Yet, the progress achieved, as well as the implementation of agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, had led to a growing need for the services of UNRWA. The Agency had to respond to a new environment, while providing services to refugees outside the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Its services were fundamental.

He said the first part of UNRWA's efforts had created more than 5,000 jobs and it had also succeeded in supporting the Palestinian Authority in certain tasks. The response by donor countries was positive. The UNRWA should continue services until a political solution was found to the refugee problem. The UNRWA's mandate should be renewed for three years and the Agency's distinct role in the peace process should be reflected by increased contributions.

The suffering of the Palestinian people should come to an end with the end of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, he said. He hoped that the coming report of UNRWA would be devoid of any violations perpetrated by Israel against the rights of Palestinians. The draft resolutions concerning UNRWA helped to achieve consensus on issues, given international agreement on the need of UNRWA to support the peace process. Attention should not be focused on Gaza and West Bank at the expense of the other 1.7 million Palestinian refugees in other areas.

MOHAMED AL-HASSAN (Oman) said the Palestinian people faced a bitter reality due to the lack of available resources and the suffering to which they had been subjected. UNRWA had been a source of creative solutions for the Palestinian refugees and it deserved the international community's full support until its goals had been achieved.

His Government, which had always supported UNRWA's programmes and activities, was concerned at the debt the Agency faced, he said. The Commissioner-General's report painted a somber picture of the situation facing UNRWA, despite the elimination of a number of fundamental programmes that were important to the Palestinian people. Funding must be guaranteed for those programmes.

He said developments in the Middle East were moving towards a peaceful solution to conflicts and the settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem must be part of that solution. The report had noted the attitude of the Israeli authorities towards the Agency. He hoped a practical solution to such problems would be found.

Statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General

ILTER TURKMEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, speaking after the discussion on the work of UNRWA concluded, thanked the Committee for its expressions of support. He explained that the following contributions had been provided late and had not been included in his report: Jordan, $229 million; Lebanon, $17 million; and Syria $54.2 million. He was grateful for their support.

Mr. Turkmen said the delegate of Japan had made a few points in his statement yesterday that required comment. Japan had referred to the need for greater coordination between the Agency and the Palestinian Authority and the adoption of a resolution at the current session requesting the Secretary- General to devise a plan of action to facilitate such coordination. The UNRWA had good cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, he said. The Secretary- General had already taken several steps to enhance coordination between United Nations agencies and the Authority and had appointed a Special Coordinator. There were also several coordination mechanisms. However, overdone coordination became counterproductive, replacing action. If the purpose was to accelerate the transfer of responsibilities from UNRWA to the Authority, then that was a political approach.

He said the other point Japan had made was that UNRWA was not an organization for the delivery of humanitarian aid. In fact, the Agency was building schools and health centres, and providing projects for income generation. That was human resource development. Was the purpose to ask UNRWA to abandon those activities? he asked. In one of the resolutions adopted last year, UNRWA was requested to continue to work towards social and economic development in Gaza and the West Bank. The Agency had no intention of embarking on long-term development projects, which were outside the mandate of UNRWA.

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