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

21 June 2000


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

CAIRO, 21 June -- Non-economic issues, such as Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and water and natural resources, had a serious impact on sustained Palestinian and social development, according to expert panellists addressing the United Nations Seminar on Prospects for Palestinian Economic Development and the Middle East Peace Process in Cairo this afternoon.

The seven panellists agreed that the issue of water restriction was critical to Palestinian economic development, particularly in the agricultural sector. Speakers also expressed concern about the lack of contiguity between the parts of the Palestinian territories and the need for access. The Oslo II map was described as a prescription for disaster.

Several speakers stressed that sensitive issues that have not been fully addressed will have to be resolved during the final status negotiations. They warned that the aspirations of both sides would not be fully met.

Panel experts included Shibley Telhami, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute; Yossi Katz, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Labour); Sharif Elmusa, Professor of Political Science, American University, Cairo; Tahir Shash, Legal Adviser, Arab Organization for Human Rights; David Newman, Head, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba; Emad Gad, Researcher on Palestinian Affairs, Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo; and Akrum Jalal Tamimi, Vice-President, Planning and Development, Hebron University.

Following a brief suspension, the Seminar heard closing remarks by Soliman Awaad, Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Egypt; the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa; and Ibra Deguene Ka, Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee.

The two-day Seminar was attended by representatives of 83 governments, five intergovernmental organizations, 14 United Nations agencies, 27 non-governmental organizations, and over 30 members of the media. Numerous members of the private sector attended the Seminar.

Panel IV:
Impact of non-economic issues on sustained Palestinian economic and social development (Israeli settlements; Jerusalem; Palestine refugees; water and natural resources)

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute: The task confronting the Palestinians in economic development is not simple. It must take into account a number of non-economic factors, and economic pay-off would not be immediate. It must be considered in the context of building new institutions and contacts with the outside world. There must also be a differentiation between the current interim period and the future. It is a mistake to focus on the interim period which will come to an end one way or the other. There would be a new relationship that would structure Palestinian development.

Non-economic challenges to economic development included the relative independence, as well as institutional and social barriers. An independent legal system is a necessity. Currently, there is no clear line of authority and no confidence in the judiciary, something that is important to investors. Much can be accomplished with regard to banking. There needs to be further focus on the private sector and increased privatization. The size of employment maintained by the public sector is too large for the economy. Despite the high level of education in the Palestinian territory, the focus is not necessarily in the right areas. There was too little emphasis on research and a lack of cutting-edge research institutions, elements needed to attract qualified expatriates.

Sound economic programmes could not be implemented in the absence of independence. A major barrier to Palestinian trade was the absence of access to the outside world. The lack of contiguity presented a significant barrier to trade within the territories. A robust programme of development requires unimpeded access regardless of short-term sovereignty arrangements. The final agreement must address that problem. It must also address the settlement problem. A proposal that selective settlements be dismantled over the next five years through Palestinian and Israeli disincentives for settlers to stay would allow Israel to keep extraterritorial control. That constituted grounds for problems and, any timetable of that sort had to be limited.

YOSSI KATZ, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Labour): The basic economic interests of the two parties are so intertwined that even political separation could not solve the problem. Poverty, ignorance and a sick economy were the best way to fan the flames of terrorism and promote radical groups. With a strong economy, Palestinians had a better chance for peace. The current reality demanded a correct balance between security needs and the free movement of resources and people. The parties must find the right balance between economic cooperation and dependency. Twenty-five per cent of Palestinian workers find ways to avoid the road blocks every day in order to reaching work. Israel sells three times what it buys from Palestinians, and that ratio must be changed. Political steps must accompany economic steps.

Although neither side will be able to realize all their aspirations, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must reach agreement on each of the remaining sensitive issues on the agenda. Jerusalem must be an open city without borders. The proposal to build a high fence is insulting. The holy places must be open to all. There must be an arrangement by which the Jewish settlements in the territories remain under Israeli control. To educate public and to demonstrate sensitivity to the Palestinian people, Israel should announce willingness to take 200,000 refugees. Israel should release Palestinian prisoners, even those who had killed Jews before the Oslo agreements. The most radical members of Fatah would make the best ambassadors of peace.

SHARIF S. ELMUSA, Professor, Political Science, American University, Cairo: Among the non-economic factors affecting Palestinian development is the limited amount of water. Much of the foreign exchange goes for imported food that cannot be grown because there is not enough water. The water gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not relevant to income, but rather to the availability of water. Israel has imposed water restrictions over the years as a way to control the land.

Israeli consumption of water has increased over the years. Palestinians and Israelis have agreed that the inequality will have to be addressed. No matter how much the water is divided or redivided, there is not enough. Israel, which was much more able to tap the water resources, had an important but little known aquifer in the Negev desert with 70 billion cubic meters of water. Israel also had the capacity to desalinate water. It is able to give back to the Palestinians water that it has denied them over the years.

TAHIR SHASH, Legal Adviser, Arab Organization for Human Rights: The situation in the Palestinian territory did not improve with the Oslo agreement. Cooperation was to be extended to various areas, but the agreements were implemented in a selective manner. The settlements are the cornerstone for the Israeli project to take over all Palestine. They control the sources of water for their own interest. They took over land from which Palestinians had been forced to flee and which the Government arbitrarily annexed. The annexation of Palestinian territories and Israeli settlements has taken over a large part of the West Bank. It is said that Israel is proposing to keep 40 per cent of the West Bank. The settlements represent agricultural and social centres that are subsidized by the State. In Jerusalem, Israel has been following a policy of annexing it entirely. The development of East Jerusalem, one of the largest cities and main tourist site, has been expanded so that it represents 25 per cent of the West Bank.

DAVID NEWMAN, Head, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba: The Oslo II map is a recipe for disaster. There has to be territorial compactness and contiguity. There cannot be a map where one has to pass from one side to the other on a daily basis. The whole of the peace process was based on the concept of separation. The argument for a bilateral State was not acceptable to the vast majority on either side. The location of Israeli settlements is problematic. The Government, at the time of the Oslo agreement, was unable to discuss the question of evacuation of 180,000 settlers. The big test will come when the first settlement is evacuated. It could be a rallying call for settlers and the right wing and could result in major violence. Even if the Israelis wanted to withdraw from the settlements, they could not. The ideas that some settlements could remain as exclaves is not feasible.

EMAD GAD, Researcher on Palestinian affairs, Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo: In general, the Arab-Israeli negotiations were divided into direct bilateral negotiations and a multilateral regional negotiations. The Israeli-Palestinian agreements were meant to reach the final status in September 1998. The parties must recognize that it is pointless to base their future on weapons. They must firmly believe in the need for a settlement. Palestinians have come to believe that. Israeli depends more on arms and weapons in its dealings with the Arab countries.

The Arabs, who had owned more than 44 per cent of Palestine, did not accept the 1947 partition. The United States supports Israel both financially and politically. The Palestinian question has both bilateral and multilateral aspects. When the bilateral stop, regional negotiations stop and all projects come to a halt. Settlement of the issues of refugees and water problems required a regional cooperative climate. Anything could happen to hamper negotiation. Those issues might lead to the total sabotage of the negotiations.

AKRUM JAMAL TAMIMI, Vice-President, Planning and Development, Hebron University: Mr. Tamimi presented a slide show on experimental stations under the auspices of Hebron research projects which are intended to demonstrate that sustainable use of natural resources lead to sustainable economies. Natural resources need to be carefully managed. The Palestinian territory has many different climates, making possible the production of agriculture throughout the year. A project known as the Arub experimental station obtained a $1 million grant to upgrade the station. Greenhouses, agricultural machinery, land-levelling were to be financed by the European Union, but Israeli military restrictions have interfered with construction plans. Moreover, the project is further threatened by the Israeli plan to build a paved road through the experimental station.

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