|The meeting is chaired by the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Mr Yahya Yakhlef, and the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura. This meeting which coincides with the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank comes at an important time for the future of the Region and the resumption of the peace process. |
On the opening of the first working session, the Director-General underscored the importance of the new developments on the ground for the Road Map which “remains the best available framework for building a sustainable peace process in the region.” This meeting of the Joint Committee is an occasion to “examine how UNESCO can best remain fully relevant and make a true difference in the post-disengagement situation,” he stated. “We can meet the concrete challenges created by the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank (…) Let us seek, therefore, to agree on an action plan that addresses these priority needs,” he added, while noting, “our best response to this situation is, I believe, to be flexible and adaptable so that our assistance remains relevant to your key concerns.”
The Director-General did however specify that “complementary to such flexibility is our constant commitment to never lose sight of the goals envisioned in the Road Map, namely, two states living side-by-side, in a context of a comprehensive and just peace in the region.” “For UNESCO”, he recalled, “this commitment also entails continued efforts to facilitate dialogue directed towards reconciliation among those intellectuals, academics, students and professional groups eager to engage into such endeavours. I am deeply convinced that intellectual solidarity, promoting “peace in the minds of men”, can indeed be a driving force to achieve sustainable development, stability and peace in the Middle East, that is, to achieve the goals of the Road Map.”
Mr Matsuura welcomed the fact that cooperation between UNESCO and the Palestinian Authority had made positive progress over the last months, “Thanks to our joint efforts we have given life to the UNESCO Programme of Assistance for Rehabilitation and Development in the Palestinian Territories, validated by this Joint Committee at its 6th meeting, held in July last year,” he noted. Illustrating his remarks with concrete examples, he mentioned the publication of the “Inventory of Palestinian Cultural Heritage of Outstanding Value”, which in his view represents a significant achievement in the field of capacity building; technical and legal support to advise on legal and policy reforms related to freedom of expression, following the visit to UNESCO of the Minister of Information; aid in facilitating the revival of the Palestinian Book Fair in Ramallah, which allowed for an opportunity to overcome intellectual isolation and create public access to literature, knowledge and entertainment. In the priority field of education, Mr Matsuura spoke of a major assistance project in support of Palestinian students, which will urgently address the serious financial crisis faced by higher education institutions in the Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian Minister of Culture, Mr Yahya Yakhlef, firstly thanked UNESCO and the Director-General for the continuous support in favour of the Palestinian People and for the concrete actions taken to strengthen capacity in the fields of competence of the Organization. In this regard, he underscored the importance of the activities carried out by UNESCO’s Ramallah Office and the positive results of the various expert missions, which are proof of the Organization’s commitment. The Minister particularly welcomed UNESCO’s intervention with Israeli authorities to obtain permission to build a school in Jeftlik. For the Minister it is a perfect example of what UNESCO can realize and is a sign of hope for those working on the ground. The Minister also thanked UNESCO for its work in favour of Palestinian cultural heritage. In relation to the post-disengagement phase in the Gaza Strip, the Minister requested that urgent measures be taken to accompany the important reconstruction efforts the new situation requires.
Before the beginning of the Joint Committee meeting, the Minister of Culture and the Director-General held bi-lateral talks, in the presence of the Mr Ahmad Abdelrazek, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to UNESCO, and Mr Hicham Mustapha, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Commission for UNESCO. During the meeting, the Minister invited the Director-General to undertake an official visit to the Palestinian Territories.
On Thursday, 8 September the first Joint Meeting of Israeli and Palestinian National Commission will be held at UNESCO. Activities for the promotion of reconciliation and dialogue between the two civil societies will in particular be examined at the meeting.
An information meeting for the Permanent Delegates will be held on 9 September, during which the Director-General will take stock of the two meetings of the Joint UNESCO/Palestinian Committee and the National Commissions.