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53rd plenary meeting
Monday, 13 November 2006, 3 p.m.
The meeting was called to order at 3.10 p.m.
Mr. Mansour (Palestine): We have gathered here today to discuss an issue that is of vital importance to the Palestinian people, both economically and politically. International assistance, which has been a lifeline for the Palestinian people, began as much-needed humanitarian assistance to a people, the majority of whom had become refugees by force and coercion. Soon after, with increased international attention to the core political context of the Palestinian question, international assistance to the Palestinian people developed. That evolved into assistance on which the Palestinian people could depend. It helped them endure the crushing reality of the Israeli military occupation and the economic and political deprivation that has been imposed on them and with which the majority of them have had to live.
This assistance is also very political in terms of its context. That was clearly evident from the sharp increase in international assistance with the start of the peace process and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. Numerous large-scale infrastructure projects were internationally funded, laying the foundation for sustainable development in a stable Palestine leading to a brighter tomorrow for future generations. The international community was determined to support the political efforts of the Palestinian leadership to achieve peace and stability in the region through the building of a stable and economically viable Palestinian entity, committed to peace and respect for international law. Regrettably, that commitment and the resulting accomplishments have been confronted with the crushing military might of the Israeli occupation, which, over the past six years, has decimated the cherished achievements of the Palestinian people. In fact, through illegal policies and military aggression, as well as a severe economic siege, Israel, the occupying Power, has ensured the ruin of the Palestinian economy and the transformation of the Palestinian population from a young, productive society into a crippled and starved one.
It has been 39 years since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, began. Much has changed on the ground and at the political level since then, but one thing has remained relentlessly consistent: the Israeli occupation’s policy of subjugating the Palestinian people by exploiting their resources, denying them their rights and sabotaging their dreams.
Before the beginning of the peace process, the Israeli occupation shackled the Palestinian economy and kept it hostage, denying it the ability to reach its full potential or to establish any viable foundations. Production, manufacturing, import and export were all economic activities denied the Palestinians and reserved for the exclusive benefit of Israel, the occupying Power. For decades, the Palestinian economy was coerced into being an outlet for Israeli products that enjoyed absolute hegemony over the market. Even after the signing of various economic agreements as part of the peace process, Israel, the occupying Power, insisted on the upper hand over the flow of currency, merchandise and other economic elements, keeping overwhelming pressure on the fledgling Palestinian economy.
In addition to exercising that hegemony over the past six years, Israel, the occupying Power, has also employed an intricate system of closure and siege that has repeatedly caused serious crises in the Palestinian economy and, more recently, has absolutely devastated all sectors of society.
Israel, the occupying Power, has spared no effort and left no stone unturned in working to achieve economic and social development for its citizens at the expense of the Palestinian people. More important, it has made a policy of denying the Palestinian people the right even to lay down the foundations for a future State, destroying whatever achievements are accomplished to that end.
Over the past six years, Israel, the occupying Power, has repeatedly and systematically targeted and destroyed the economic achievements that international assistance funded for the Palestinian people.
Infrastructure projects, including water and sewage networks, have been repeatedly targeted and destroyed by the Israeli military aggression. Gaza’s only electrical power plant was destroyed. Its international airport and port have also been turned into a pile of rubble by the Israeli occupying forces. Palestinian institutions, including those essential for the protection and upholding of the rule of law, have also been systematically destroyed. The crippling effect of this systematic campaign of destruction cannot be overstated.
At the same time, it is very important to keep in mind that this tragic situation is doubly devastating because the losses incurred by the Palestinian people are losses that the Palestinian economy cannot withstand and at the same time are funded by international resources that the Palestinian people cannot replace. Allow me to emphasize here that the destruction of one internationally funded project means that important and scarce resources have to be diverted to the project’s reconstruction, resulting in the Palestinian people losing a potential additional economic asset to their economy.
In effect, this systematic Israeli campaign of destruction and sabotage has trapped the Palestinian people into a cycle of repair and reconstruction rather than of construction and development. The comprehensive nature of the devastation wrought in all sectors of the Palestinian economy and society by Israeli military aggression leaves no room for development and planning. Instead, it confines the Palestinian people to a limited reality, where survival is an end goal rather than a given, and where development is a long-forgotten priority rather than a continuous reality.
Examining the destruction of what international assistance builds is only half of the story, for it does not expose the wider picture. Nor does it uncover the comprehensive effect of these devastating Israeli acts of aggression. Hand in hand with the economic siege imposed on the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly the Gaza Strip, Israel, the occupying Power, has succeeded in neutralizing any positive outcome of international assistance to the Palestinian people. It has diverted this assistance from sustainable development into largely emergency humanitarian assistance. While the generous contributions of the international community in this respect enjoy the highest regard and appreciation of the Palestinian people and their leadership, they do not solve the problem. This is simply because what is now largely emergency assistance only aids Palestinian recipients in surviving the current crisis, rather than in building for a brighter future. It is therefore of great importance to look at current assistance needs in this context.
Currently, a large number of Palestinians live under the poverty line of less than $2.10 a day. Over the past year, the number of people living under the poverty line in Gaza has risen by 30 per cent, to a shocking 75 per cent. These disturbing figures are the direct result of the siege that Israel, the occupying Power, has imposed on the Gaza Strip, which isolates it from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory and the world.
Consequently, out of 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, 1.1 million now depend on United Nations assistance for their daily food. Simply to say “food insecurity” in this case is an understatement. Regrettably, these astounding facts are the tip of the iceberg in Palestine, which, as the United Nations and other experts have warned, is facing a catastrophic humanitarian situation as a result of the oppressive policies of the Israeli occupation.
Over the past year, international assistance to the Palestinian people has continued, although through a new mechanism designed by the Quartet as a response to the appointment of the new Palestinian Government. However well-intended this new mechanism is, the consequences on the ground of what has essentially been an international community boycott of the Palestinian Authority has been absolutely paralysing. This is especially significant when taking into consideration the fact that the current mechanism does not include assistance to the Palestinian Authority that would aid it in paying the 130,000 public servants who constitute 23 per cent of the employed Palestinian population. Moreover, the boycott is compounded by Israel’s withholding of the $60 million a month owed to the Palestinian Authority in collected taxes.
These new circumstances vis-à-vis international assistance have aggravated an already intolerable economic and humanitarian situation on the ground. Adding to the woes of high unemployment and virtual economic collapse, Palestinian public servants, who had hitherto been the remaining secure financial contributors to the economy, are now, in a word, bankrupt.
While it is understandable that assistance cannot be provided contrary to a Member State’s policies or political goals, this international boycott is inexplicable, as it has effectively resulted in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The boycott is simply counterproductive, because it has also complicated an already complex situation on the ground, both politically and economically. In this context, I would like to draw the Assembly’s attention to the recent report submitted by Mr. John Dugard on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, in which he stated that “[T]he Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions — the first time an occupied people have been so treated” ( A/HRC/2/5, summary).
Israel, the occupying Power, has repeatedly used the convenient guise of self-defence and so-called security needs to justify its unrelenting violations of international law and international humanitarian law, its campaign of destruction and military aggression against the Palestinian economy as well as the siege it has imposed on the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and, in particular, the Gaza Strip.
Self-defence and security needs should never be acceptable excuses for gross human rights violations and contraventions of international law. In effect, aiming attacks at civilian targets is forbidden under international humanitarian law and is considered a war crime. In view of the occupying Power’s responsibility for the lives and welfare of the population under its occupation, Israel is obliged under international law to make reparation for the war crimes it has committed.
This case should be no different. Indeed, the serious situation on the ground resulting from the reprehensible actions of the occupying Power should further motivate the international community to act resolutely and put a final end to the destruction of an entire people, not merely their property, funded projects and potential future.
In this context, international assistance to the Palestinian people is of imperative importance, as this assistance is the lifeline on which a viable Palestinian State, living side by side with Israel, could be founded. The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, public buildings and other economically vital institutions by the occupying Power amounts to war crimes, as many reports submitted to the Assembly have stated.
These must be brought to a halt so that the assistance of the international community can be rediverted towards construction and development. The international community must not allow Israel, the occupying Power, to continue wasting and sabotaging the world’s generous contributions through its collective punishment of the Palestinian people, denial of their rights and destruction of their chances for a viable State.
Mr. Bouresly (Kuwait) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
With regard to assistance to the Palestinian people, the report (A/61/80) of the Secretary-General emphasizes that, in the period under consideration, there has been a very rapid series of events in the occupied Palestinian territories. This period has been marked by uncertainty, ambiguity and disappointment. The report also cites very grave figures about the Palestinian economy. For instance, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 48 per cent of Palestinians live below the poverty line, 23 per cent are unemployed and 76 per cent have expressed the desire to receive assistance. In this regard, we emphasize that Kuwait continues to offer assistance to the Palestinian Authority, either directly or through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
We believe that the international community must intensify its efforts to put an end to Israel’s outrageous violations, to halt construction of the separation wall, to end restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, and resume negotiations to reach a peaceful, just and comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict.
Kuwait will continue aid on a bilateral basis, as well as through United Nations agencies, not only for disaster relief but also to help rebuild through efforts undertaken by entities such as the Kuwait Economic Development Fund and Kuwaiti civil society organizations and charities, with a view to creating a world of peace, stability and prosperity for all.
Mr. Abdelaziz (Egypt) (spoke in Arabic ): At the outset, I should like to express my support for the statement made by the representative of South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and to convey my appreciation to the Secretary-General for his reports, which help to facilitate our discussions on this issue — one that is of special importance to Egypt.
The events of the past few days — namely the Security Council’s failure to stop Israel’s attacks against the Palestinians, owing to the use of the veto — have confirmed that there is an urgent need for an effective response to the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people (A/61/80), which was submitted pursuant to resolution 60/126.
The tragic reality of Palestinian daily life under the Israeli occupation, and Israel’s continued and increasing violations of human rights, including its hindrance of organized international and regional efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, require the General Assembly to take a firm stance, especially since recent events have shown that the use of force — whether in Palestine or in Lebanon — will not result in a settlement. Rather, it will only worsen feelings of frustration and despair that foster extremism and hatred, which we do not need.
If we are to prevent a further deterioration in the quality of life inside the occupied Palestinian territories, a further decline of the Palestinian economy and an increase in the economic, social and humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population, the Secretary-General’s recommendation that significant financial assistance be provided by the international community must be effectively implemented.
If international support is to achieve the goal to which we aspire, United Nations agencies must be able to urgently and adequately meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people by strengthening existing mechanisms. The role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East must therefore be supported; it should be able to play its proper role in the Palestinian territory. Israel must respect the Agreement on Movement and Access, which must be renewed, and all restrictions on the movement of assistance organizations must be removed. The Palestinian people must be allowed to interact with the rest of the world and to receive humanitarian assistance until our fundamental goal is achieved at the earliest opportunity through the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital, as a result of negotiation, and not through violence and humanitarian crises.
We are looking forward to receiving the recommendations of the Secretary-General in this regard. His report on assistance to the Palestinians ended with a number of observations, without presenting any prospects for addressing the issue in future. We believe that that should be rectified effectively by the Secretariat in its future reports so that the vision of the United Nations can interact with the vision of Member States in order to end the suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation.
Mr. Skinner-Klée (Guatemala) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
Finally, I wish briefly to refer to the tragic events in recent months in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, as well as in Lebanon. The situation in the Gaza Strip is cause for particular concern. It is regrettable to see the growing pace at which the situation continues to deteriorate. Israeli military operations, actions of Palestinian extremist groups and growing tension between Hamas and Fatah partisans are the main factors in this deterioration. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated further as a result of the extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure in the territory. We stress that crossing points must remain open in order to allow for the entry of food, medicines and other important items, especially fuel.
We appeal to the donor community to respond generously to the humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon.
Mr. Jenie (Indonesia): ...
Before concluding, allow me to touch on the Secretary-General’s report on international assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people (A/61/80). We commend the work of the United Nations in providing assistance to the Palestinian people even in the most difficult of situations. In this regard, we urge the international donor community to continue its generous support. Ultimately, however, we must rededicate ourselves to peace in the Middle East and to the creation of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, the Quartet Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
Indonesia fully supports strengthening United Nations capacity to coordinate humanitarian response. At the same time, we must remember that it is the start of a much longer process which is equally important in priority.
Mr. Sardenberg (Brazil): ...
Brazil has also delivered more humanitarian assistance, especially by donating food, medicines, medication kits, blankets and shelter. In the last two years, Brazil has pledged resources for the reconstruction of Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories and contributed to the assistance of victims of the Asian tsunami, the South Asia earthquake and the floods in Guyana, Ecuador and Suriname.
The Acting President : In accordance with resolution 48/265 of 24 August 1994, I now call upon the Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Mr. Shafer (Sovereign Military Order of Malta): ...
Regarding agenda item 69, sub-item (d), “Assistance to the Palestinian people”, may I say that the Order remains dedicated to the development of a sustainable health system for the Palestinian people. The Order of Malta has, for 16 years, operated the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem-Palestine — a maternity hospital on whose board my wife serves — where more than 36,000 healthy children have been delivered. Those works are carried out despite the fact that the hospital has been besieged and damaged as a consequence of the violence — violence that continues — in the area.
The meeting rose at 5.35 p.m.
This record contains the text of speeches delivered in English and of the interpretation of speeches delivered in the other languages. Corrections should be submitted to the original languages only. They should be incorporated in a copy of the record and sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned to the Chief of the Verbatim Reporting Service, room C-154A. Corrections will be issued after the end of the session in a consolidated corrigendum.