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

2 November 1999



Agency’s Commissioner-General Introduces Report,
Emphasizing Financial Difficulties, Management Reform Efforts

In its new biennial budget, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had reinstated some of the services and projects affected by austerity measures imposed in 1993, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told this afternoon, as it began considering the Agency’s work.

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said that the new thinking had enabled the Agency to present the budget in a new format and to deal definitively with the 1993 austerity measures, which had been rolled over each year, including the current one. The management reform process was also continuing and new area staff rules had been introduced. The UNRWA was also trying to strengthen its strategic planning capabilities.

He said that the Agency’s estimated income for 1999 was $257 million, with core expenditures totalling an estimated $251.5 million, which left a surplus of some $5.6 million. However, the Agency faced a serious cash flow problem arising from delayed payments. With an anticipated cash shortfall of $6.6 million, if UNRWA did not receive that amount by the end of December it would not be able to honour its commitments.

Despite rumours that UNRWA’s financial crisis would lead to its closure, the Agency was continuing its activities, he said. An investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services and national investigative agencies had disproved allegations of endemic corruption in the Agency’s construction programme in Lebanon, financial impropriety and embezzlement of medical supplies.

The observer for Palestine said that the Agency’s operation in the occupied Palestinian territory continued to be obstructed by measures imposed by the Israeli authorities, such as repeated closures and restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and vehicles. That had invariably affected the provision of services to the Palestine refugees. The Agency should be allowed to carry out its mandate without such constraints.

Other speakers this afternoon stressed that implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions would lead to the solution of the refugee problem. Lebanon’s representative, whose country continues to host the greatest number of Palestinian refugees, said the international community had a moral and humanitarian responsibility to the refugees. So far, it had not provided adequate assistance for UNRWA to complete its mandated tasks. The lives of more than 3 million refugees were linked to the Agency and their tragedy continued to threaten regional stability and security.

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Jordan’s representative said it was only logical that support for UNRWA meant support for the Middle East peace process. Any reduction in Agency services would harm the very peace process itself. Any tendency to change the priorities of UNRWA’s programmes was unacceptable, because its services constituted basic human rights to the Palestine refugees.

The representative of the United States said that, as UNRWA’s largest donor, his country urged support for UNRWA’s commitment to reform and for the Middle East region’s commitment to peace. However, it could not vote for unbalanced resolutions which attempted to prejudge the outcome of negotiations. Lasting peace would come from agreements reached among the parties themselves, not from any action taken by the Committee on those resolutions.

Before the general debate, Norway’s representative, in his capacity as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introduced that body’s report.

As the meeting opened, the Committee expressed deep sympathy to the Government and people of India for the tragic loss of life and damaged caused by the recent cyclone. It also observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims and those killed in the crash of EgyptAir flight 990.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Norway, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The representative of India thanked those who had expressed sympathy for his country’s loss.

The Fourth Committee will continue with its general debate on UNRWA when it meets at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 3 November.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin considering the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Before the Committee was the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (document A/54/13) for the period 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999, which states that living standards among Palestinian refugees remained generally poor despite modest economic growth in some host countries. Despite recurrent financial difficulties and the uncertain political environment, the Agency was able to maintain basic health, education and relief and social services for 3.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with the Agency in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But, those services could only be sustained through the retention of austerity and cost-reduction measures imposed in previous years, the report notes. Even with those measures in place, and with additional ad hoc contributions from donors, UNRWA ended 1998 with a $61.9 million deficit compared to the regular cash budget of $314 million, and with depleted cash and working capital reserves.

According to the report, further progress was achieved in UNRWA's internal restructuring and reform programme. The Agency implemented a major initiative whose primary aims were to enhance the budget's usefulness as a planning, management and fund-raising tool, and to offer greater transparency. It was hoped that the new approach would result in increased donor resources being made available, thereby safeguarding the quality and level of services provided to Palestine refugees.

The Commissioner-General reports that the Palestine refugee community and the host authorities in all fields of operation continued to express concern about the perceived reduction in UNRWA services, although there was no repeat of the wide-scale protests sparked by the imposition of austerity and cost-reduction measures in August 1997. The Agency's financial difficulties were seen by many as politically motivated, signalling a weakening in the international community's commitment to the refugee issue and a dereliction by UNRWA of its humanitarian duties.

In some cases, the report states, the protests were politically motivated, even where there was no reduction in services. The continuing absence of tangible progress in the Middle East peace process exacerbated the Palestine refugees' frustration. On the Israeli-Palestinian track, initial optimism over the October 1998 Wye River breakthrough was soon replaced by frustration, as the majority of that agreement remained unimplemented in an atmosphere of mutual recrimination.

According to the report, tension increased in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as the original May 1999 deadline for completion of final status negotiations passed with no sign of movement in the peace process. There was no progress on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of the peace process. However, by mid-1999, the election of a new government in Israel and developments in the Arab world brought hope and expectation that peace efforts would be reinvigorated.

While UNRWA continued to cooperate with the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and with the Palestinian Authority, the situation in the occupied West Bank was tense for much of the period under review, the report says. There were intermittent clashes, some resulting in fatalities, between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and between Palestinians and the Israel Defence Force. Hebron remained particularly volatile.

The Commissioner-General notes that the Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, continued to impose full closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as curfews and closures in various West Bank localities, although to a lesser degree than in the previous reporting period. Those closures negatively affected the socio-economic conditions and hindered economic activity, in particular by preventing Palestinian labourers from working in Israel. Socio-economic conditions remained difficult in the Gaza Strip, whose residents continued to rely heavily on employment opportunities inside Israel. However, labour and trade flows between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip were higher than in 1998 and in 1997.

According to the report, the Palestine refugee population in Jordan enjoyed full citizenship, giving them access to government assistance and development assistance aimed at improving the country's socio-economic situation. The Palestine refugee community in Lebanon, among the most disadvantaged, suffered from poor living and housing conditions, restrictions on mobility and high unemployment rates.

The report also describes general developments in Agency programmes, including education, health, relief and social services, income generation, financial and legal matters. It also gives details of UNRWA's work in each field of operation – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Commissioner-General on the financial situation of UNRWA in 1998 and 1999 and budget estimates for 2000-2001 (document A/54/13 and Add.1). It notes that, unlike other United Nations bodies, UNRWA provides services directly to beneficiaries through its own network of facilities. The Agency employs 22,000 staff, over 99 per cent of whom are locally-recruited Palestinians.

The report puts the total volume of the 2000-2001 budget at $735.7 million, a 6 per cent increase over the $695.7 million 1998-1999 budget. The increase results from natural growth in the refugee population, the rising cost of certain expenditure items, including staff costs, and redefinition of the range of items covered in the budget. Some 95 per cent of budget volume is funded by voluntary contributions, with the remainder funded by the United Nations and other sources.

According to the report, the 2000-2001 budget safeguards the quality and level of services that UNRWA has been providing to Palestine refugees since 1950. It not only reflects the minimum of resources that the Agency needs to operate on a sustainable basis, but also allows for cost-effective improvements to the quality of services and the efficiency of operations, and the broadening of services in certain areas previously affected by austerity measures.

The report's first chapter reviews the Agency's situation in 1998 and 1999; the second describes the revised budget structure and provides other general information about the budget; and chapter 3 gives an overview of the 2000-2001 budget on an Agency-wide basis. Chapters 4 to 9 deal with the biennial budget for each programme area, including a description of activities and detailed budgetary comments, and chapter 10 covers project-funded activities. Annexes contain summaries of the Agency's biennial goals, objectives and targets, as well as additional information on staffing, projects and cost attribution.

By applying a comprehensive, programme-based and forward-looking approach to its budget, the report says, UNRWA hopes to achieve full funding of its 2000-2001 budget and move beyond the financial crisis of recent years. That will enable UNRWA's vital humanitarian assistance to be placed on a solid financial footing and preserve the Agency's role as an element of stability in the region.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/54/377). It cites the Secretary-General's 28 July 1999 note verbale to the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, requesting information on any action taken or envisaged by his Government in implementing the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolution 53/48 of 3 December 1998. That resolution reaffirmed the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes or former places of residence in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

In a response by Israel, dated 25 August 1999 and contained in the report, the Permanent Representative replies that resolutions regarding UNRWA remain rife with political issues irrelevant to the Agency's work, and thus remain detached from
the reality in the area.

"The resolutions concerning UNRWA must reflect the progress in the peace process and the potential for future breakthroughs”, he writes. "If this potential is to be harnessed, the peace process must receive encouragement and support from concerned parties in the region and the international community, including through resolutions regarding the future of UNRWA."

He goes on: "Israel believes that UNRWA can play an important role in promoting the social and economic advancement foreseen in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, within the limits of its humanitarian mandate, and accordingly looks forward to continuing its cooperation and good working relationship with UNRWA."

The report states further that between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 1999, 1,022 UNRWA-registered refugees returned to the West Bank and 257 to the Gaza Strip. Some of those may not themselves have been displaced in 1967, but may be members of the family of a displaced registered refugee whom they accompanied on his return or joined thereafter.

According to the Secretary-General's report on offers by Member States of grants and scholarships for higher education, including vocational training for Palestine refugees (document A/54/376), Japan awarded nine fellowships through UNRWA in the 1999 fiscal year, of which five were to Palestine refugees. Between 1989 and 1996, Switzerland contributed $1,703,581, as well as $338,000 in 1997, to the UNRWA university scholarships programme for secondary school graduates.

The report says that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted 13 scholarships in favour of Palestinian students during the 1998-1999 biennium. The World Health Organization (WHO) provided 62 fellowship/study tours in the same period for qualified Palestinian candidates nominated by the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the United World Colleges established their own selection committee in UNRWA's area of operation, and did not offer any scholarships through the Agency for the 1997/1998 academic year. One scholarship was offered for 1998/1999 by Canada's Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific and another, for 1999/2000, is being processed.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues (document A/54/345), submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 53/51 of 3 December 1998. By that resolution, the General Assembly reaffirmed that the Palestine refugees are entitled to their property and to the income derived therefrom, in conformity with the principles of justice and equity. The resolution also urged the Palestinian and Israeli sides, as agreed between them, to deal with the important issue of Palestine refugees' properties and their revenues in the framework of the final status negotiations of the Middle East peace process.

The report says that the Secretary-General requested, on 28 July 1999, that Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations inform him by 10 September 1999 of any action taken or envisaged in relation to implementation of resolutions 53/46 to 53/52 of 3 December 1998.

A 23 August 1999 response by Israel said that Israel had abstained from resolution 53/49 and voted against resolutions 53/46, 53/48, 53/50, 53/51 and 53/52. Israel considered it essential that the General Assembly consolidate the resolutions regarding UNRWA into one resolution directly related to the Agency's humanitarian tasks.

The Secretary-General's report on a University of Jerusalem "Al-Quds" for Palestine refugees (document A/54/385) cites his request to the Rector of the United Nations University for assistance in completing the functional feasibility study on establishing the proposed university. The Rector made available a highly qualified expert, Mihaly Simai, to assist in the preparation of the study. The expert was to visit the area and meet with Israeli officials. In a note verbale to the Permanent Representative of Israel, and dated 28 July 1999, the Secretary-General requested that Israel facilitate the visit.

According to the report, Israel's Permanent Representative informed the Secretary-General on 26 August 1999 that his Government had voted consistently against the proposed university, and its position remained unchanged. "It is clear that the sponsors of this resolution seek to exploit the field of higher education for political purposes totally extraneous to genuine academic pursuits." Accordingly, Israel considered that the proposed visit "would serve no useful purpose".

Also before the Committee was the report of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA (document A/54/477) which expresses deep concern about the Agency's financial prospects. It emphasizes the international community's responsibility to ensure the maintenance of UNRWA services at acceptable levels, as defined by the needs of the refugee community, and to ensure that those levels keep pace with the steady natural growth of the refugee population.

The Working Group expresses alarm at the continuing negative effect of seven years of austerity measures on UNRWA's humanitarian operations. Those measures have prevented the expansion of programmes at a rate commensurate with the growth in the refugee population, necessitated curtailment in ongoing programme activities and precluded actions that would be part of the Agency's normal work programme. Most seriously, they have led to increased class sizes in Agency schools, rising patient/staff ratios in its health services and higher caseloads for social workers dealing with the poorest refugees.

While noting that the refugee problem is rooted in a political issue originating more than half a century ago and the need to settle that problem once and for all, the report stresses that the problems facing the refugees today are humanitarian ones that must be addressed as a shared international responsibility. The UNRWA's services must be seen as the minimum required to enable the refugees to lead decent human lives. Any further reduction in services would not only unfairly deprive the refugees of the minimum level of support to which they are entitled, but also have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

The Working Group urges those governments that have not yet contributed to UNRWA to start to do so; those which have so far made only relatively small contributions to increase them; those which have previously made generous contributions to continue to do so in a timely manner and to strive to increase them; and those which traditionally have shown special interest in the welfare of the Palestine refugees, both in the region and beyond, to begin contributing or to increase their contributions.


Presenting his report to the Committee, PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said that third and fourth generation refugees were now being looked after by UNRWA. In that sobering context, the Agency was planning to observe its fiftieth anniversary in an appropriate manner, taking into account the tragedy of generations of refugees, but also giving credit to the international community for having shouldered the burden of providing support to the refugees.

Measures were planned for the period from 8 December 1999 through May of 2000, he added. They would include information activities and displays of commemorative art works to be contributed by refugees. The annual pledging conference was scheduled for 8 December – the anniversary date of resolution 302 (1949) – and the Secretary-General would take part in a commemorative event immediately afterwards.

The establishment of a new Israeli Government, the restarted peace process and the Sharm el-Sheikh accord had had an impact on the refugee issue, he continued. Conferences, workshops and seminars on the refugees were multiplying. In response to the rumours that UNRWA was about to be closed down, and that the Agency’s financial crisis was due to a “conspiracy” to “close the refugee file”, he said that UNRWA was continuing its activities, educating children, training young people, looking after mothers and babies and caring for the poorest. To do all of that, it continued to require funds.

The Agency was not involved in the peace negotiations, he said. However, it was recognized by all parties as a vital part of the process and as a source of socio-economic well-being for the refugees. At the socio-economic level, the refugee communities had remained poor and under-served, especially in Gaza and in Lebanon. Inadequate financing had impeded UNRWA’s ability to assist them beyond basic levels. With 1.5 million registered Palestine refugees, Jordan continued to host the largest number. The refugees formed approximately 35 per cent of the total population of that country. They benefited from a supportive environment, enjoying full citizenship and access to services and assistance.

In Lebanon, the employment restrictions, the high cost of private services and UNRWA’s financial problems contributed to the situation of the 370,000 Palestine refugees, who were the most disadvantaged of all. In last month’s meeting in Beirut, that country’s Prime Minister had expressed strong support for the Agency. The Agency must be allowed to bring construction materials into those refugee camps where a prohibition had been imposed by the authorities. The additional funds received after UNRWA’s 1997 emergency appeal for Lebanon had helped to finance some urgent needs. However, almost all those funds had been used up.

In Syria, the Government had agreed to recognize the certificates the Agency awarded to graduates of its Damascus Training Centre, he continued. In the West Bank, the situation of some 570,000 registered refugees had remained tense. Citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities had imposed temporary closures and curfews, preventing Palestinians from working in Israel. Cumbersome Israeli procedures regulating entry into and exit from the West Bank and Gaza continued to affect the mobility of UNRWA staff and goods.

In the Gaza Strip, almost 800,000 registered refugees formed over 78 per cent of the population, and an estimated 40 per cent lived in poverty, he said. The Agency had sought to alleviate the hardship of the refugees through its income generation and job creation programme. Chairman Yasser Arafat had recently reiterated his appreciation for UNRWA and promised to find a solution for the $21 million in value-added tax and other charges owed by the Palestinian Authority to the Agency.

So far, the Palestinian Authority had effected payments totaling $61,000 against 1999 reimbursement claims only, which was about 4 per cent of the amount due in 1999, he said. The cash crunch of the Agency was caused by unpaid liabilities totalling over $37 million – almost $21 million of which was owed by the Palestinian Authority. On a more positive note, he welcomed the recent opening of the southern safe passage route between Gaza and the West Bank, which had created vital economic, commercial and cultural links.

Turning to the financial situation of the Agency, he said that its estimated 1999 income was about $257.1 million, with core expenditures totalling an estimated $251.5 million, which left a surplus of some $5.6 million. However, the Agency continued to face a serious cash flow problem, which arose from delayed payments. It anticipated yet another liquidity problem by the end of December, with an anticipated cash shortfall of $6.6 million. If the Agency did not receive that amount, it would not be able to honour its commitments.

This year, UNRWA had presented its next biennial budget for 2000-2001 in a new format, he said. The new thinking had also enabled it to deal definitively with the austerity measures that had been introduced in 1993 and rolled over each year, including this one. In September 1999, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) had reviewed the budget of the Agency in its new format and expressed appreciation for the improvements in substance and content, as had its major donors. The ACABQ had also suggested that a way should be found to increase the direct support from the United Nations regular budget.

The management reform process was also continuing, he said. Early last summer, the Agency had introduced new area staff rules. It was also attempting to strengthen its strategic planning capabilities, where a start had been made with the establishment of a small policy-analysis unit a year ago.

Turning to the problem of allegations against Agency operations in Lebanon, he said that the Office of Internal Oversight Services and national investigative agencies had been invited to look into the charges, and the investigation had found that the allegations of endemic corruption in the construction programme in Lebanon had been unsubstantiated. Further, the investigation had disproven the allegations of financial impropriety and embezzlement of medical supplies. Some of the useful recommendations by the Oversight Services team had been acted upon, while others were being evaluated.

HANS BRATTSKAR (Norway), in his capacity as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introduced that body’s report (document A/54/477).

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, said that the widening gulf between the financial resources available to UNRWA and the needs of the Palestine refugees was a serious dilemma with both short-term and potentially grave long-term negative consequences. The ongoing financial problems being experienced by the Agency had meant a continuation in the past year of austerity measures and reductions or adjustments in the level of services. That had exacerbated the already heavy socio-economic burdens of refugee families, who understood those measures to have political implications reflecting a decline in the importance of their plight in the international arena. The international community should not let the refugees feel as though it was abandoning its responsibility towards them.

She emphasized the necessity of continuing UNRWA’s work in all fields of operation until a definitive solution to the refugee problem was reached with the implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions. For humanitarian reasons, any decrease in the Agency’s services should be opposed. Its services and programmes must meet the prevailing needs of the refugees. Allowing the financial crisis to be the primary determinant of UNRWA’s work was unfair to the refugees it was mandated to serve, and unfair to the Agency’s administration. The UNRWA should not be forced to operate under the pressure of minimum availability of funds.

The situation on the ground due to the freeze in the peace process throughout the reporting period continued to present countless obstacles in the daily lives of the Palestinian people, she said. In the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, despair and frustration were most prevalent among the Palestine refugee population. They continued to face socio-economic hardships, including high unemployment, declining household incomes, an overburdened infrastructure and poor living conditions. The services provided by UNRWA were crucial in helping to alleviate the hardships and pressures they had been enduring.

She said that the Agency’s operation in the occupied Palestinian territory continued to be obstructed by measures imposed by the Israeli authorities, such as repeated closures and restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and vehicles. That had invariably affected the provision of services to the Palestine refugees. The Agency should be allowed to carry out its mandate without such constraints and problems.

HASAN ABU-NIMAH (Jordan), on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated his Government’s support for UNRWA’s efforts to carry out its mandated tasks in a satisfactory fashion until a just solution could be found to the refugee problem. The Agency had proved since its inception that it was one of the most successful relief agencies established by the United Nations, despite having to operate with dwindling resources.

He said that the question of Palestine was at the core of the Arab-Israeli dispute and resolution of the Palestine refugee question was the key to its final settlement. The persistence of the refugee problem would keep the entire Middle East region vulnerable to instability and potential unrest.

Five decades after the tragedy of the Palestine refugees had occurred, UNRWA continued to fulfil its mandate, he said. As long as the reasons for the Agency’s establishment remained, and as long as the refugee question persisted, the Agency must continue to carry out its tasks. Jordan called upon the international community not to allow any reduction in UNRWA’s services until the refugee problem was resolved.

He said there was a constant gap between UNRWA’s expenditures and actual revenues received by the Agency. That had resulted in austerity measures and reductions in services over the past few years. It was only logical that support for UNRWA’s work also supported the Middle East peace process. Any reduction in services would harm the very peace process itself. Any tendency to change the priorities of UNRWA’s programmes was unacceptable, because its services constituted basic human rights to the Palestine refugees.

KATRI SILFVERBERG (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that UNRWA had contributed to improving the living conditions for the refugees and, thereby, to social stability in the region. The Agency continued to supply essential services and to equip and manage a significant part of the physical infrastructure available to the Palestinian people. The Union especially noted the developmental social services for women, youth and persons with disabilities. The Agency had also operated an income-generation programme in support of micro- and small enterprises and carried out other activities under its Peace Implementation Programme and the Lebanon Appeal.

Despite measures undertaken to reduce expenditures, she continued, the Agency had begun the 1999 financial year with a sizeable deficit, suffered a cash-flow problem in September and another was predicted for December. However, the Union was pleased to note that the Agency had been able to reform its methods of operation in order to fulfil its programme goals in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner. Tangible progress had been achieved in internal restructuring and the reform programme. The Union welcomed the new structure of the UNRWA budget for 2000-2001, which contributed to improved budgetary transparency. It also welcomed the consultative process between the Agency, host governments, the Palestinian Authority and donors, on management reforms.

The Union ensured a major share of total international assistance to Palestinian refugees, she said. It was contributing about 120 million euros in the period from 1999 to 2001. That amount was in addition to the considerable contributions made by the individual Member States and to financial support provided by the European Commission for specific projects. The Union hoped that the financial pledges made in 1999 and 2000 would be sufficient to cover all the requirements of next year’s budget. It urgently called on all States to increase their contributions in order to allow the Agency to fulfil its tasks.

Although the Agency had been established as a temporary arrangement, it had already operated for five decades, she continued. The Union hoped that a political solution would soon be found as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region, so that the conclusion of the Agency’s mandate and the transfer of all functions to the Palestinian Authority would be possible. The Sharm el-Sheikh agreement had opened the door to the resumption of the negotiations on permanent status. The Union remained deeply committed to the Middle East peace process and was determined to continue playing its part.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA (Japan) said that his country, recognizing that peace and stability in the Middle East were inseparable from international peace and stability, had actively supported international efforts to advance the peace process in the region. Japan had thus warmly welcomed the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh memorandum in September this year, which had given new momentum to the Middle East peace process. Japan re-emphasized that it was the international community’s collective responsibility to continue to support the parties concerned and to promote the advancement of the Middle East peace process.

He said that given the difficult financial situations faced by many Member States, it was unrealistic to expect that UNRWA’s financial problems could be resolved through their efforts alone. He, therefore, called upon the Agency to further explore creative measures to alleviate its financial difficulties. The UNRWA might usefully explore the possibility of alternative sources of income, such as to seek contributions from the private sector and to expand joint programmmes with other international organizations.

Despite its own considerable financial difficulties in recent years, he said, Japan had steadfastly supported UNRWA’s activities and was, in fact, one of the Agency’s largest donors. It had contributed cash, food aid and emergency assistance programmes amounting to approximately $112 million between 1994 and 1998, contributed approximately $10 million to UNRWA’s 1999 regular programme budget, and extended 160 fellowships for vocational training. Twenty-one Japanese experts had been sent to provide vocational training at UNRWA training centres.

Mr. BRATTSKAR (Norway) stressed the importance, as UNRWA approached its fiftieth anniversary, of the donor community’s commitment to sustaining the Agency’s efforts. The Government of Norway was very concerned about the fact that some important donors had reduced their contributions and that others also planned to do so. His Government reiterated its appeal for an expansion of the donor base. Expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian refugees and political will to participate in the Middle East peace process must be followed up by concrete action in terms of contributions, especially towards those who had suffered the most.

He said that allegations of mismanagement and irregularity were best met with openness. The Norwegian Government noted that the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services had been distributed among the donors. Norway also appreciated UNRWA’s efforts to improve internal routines and to become a more transparent organization.

The meeting in Oslo this week between the parties to the Middle East peace process illustrated that the process was at a critical, but constructive stage, he said. In order for peace to prevail, visible and tangible results were necessary on the ground. The international community’s political support for the process must be accompanied by substantial economic assistance, in particular to the Palestinian people. The UNRWA played a vital role in that context, assisting as it did those who had suffered the most. It was the international community’s joint responsibility to enable the Agency to carry out the tasks that the General Assembly had assigned to it.

HASSAN KASSEM NAJEM (Lebanon) said the situation discussed today had been on the agenda for more than 40 years. The Israeli authorities continued to practice repression, ignoring international agreements and United Nations resolutions. They also continued to occupy certain regions in the south of Lebanon. The UNRWA played an important role in the area, and the work of the Agency should continue. Lebanon reaffirmed the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to establish an independent State.

Lebanon continued to host the greatest number of Palestinian refugees, he continued. It was also providing many services to the refugees within its modest means. The international community must shoulder its responsibility and encourage Israel to implement international resolutions stating that Palestinian refugees must return to the region from which they had been chased. Funds and general assistance should be provided to the Agency. Aware of the important role of UNRWA, he believed that the international community had a moral and humanitarian responsibility to the refugees. It had not provided adequate assistance for UNRWA to complete its mandated tasks. The assistance to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East must be increased.

The lives of more than 3 million Palestinian refugees were linked to UNRWA, he said. Their tragedy continued to threaten stability and security in the region. There was a growing concern in the region with regard to the reduction in financial contributions paid to the Agency by some of the donor countries. Those countries must increase financial contributions to the Agency and work seriously towards the implementation of the United Nations resolutions. He reaffirmed that the presence of Palestinian refugees was provisional, dictated by the circumstances created in 1948.

REVIUS ORTIQUE (United States) reiterated his country’s strong support for UNRWA, for its emerging reform efforts and for the positive steps made to date in the peace process. The UNRWA continued to play a significant and important humanitarian role in the lives of Palestinian refugees, especially with respect to their educational and health needs.

As UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States supported the organization’s reform efforts as the Agency sought to address its ongoing financial difficulties, he said. The Agency’s cash flow problems -- and deficit -- could be best resolved within the context of a broad fiscal reform package and the development of a strategic vision and management plan for its future. Towards that end, the United States supported UNRWA’s more open dialogue with its major supporters, as well as its efforts to expand the donor base.

Continuing, he noted the Committee’s concern and support for the welfare of the Palestinian community and highlighted the need for positive and constructive resolutions. While his country would like to be able to offer its unqualified support for UNRWA, it could not vote for unbalanced resolutions, which attempted to prejudge the outcome of negotiations. Lasting peace would come from agreements reached among the parties themselves –- not from any action taken by the Committee on those resolutions. He urged his colleagues to support both UNRWA’s commitment to reform and the region’s commitment to peace.

HOSSAM ZAKI (Egypt) stressed that the settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, based on General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948, was essential to any just and permanent settlement of the Palestinian question. The parties striving to achieve a permanent, just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and the full settlement of the Palestinian question in all its aspects, were fully aware of the importance, and even indispensability, of the services provided by UNRWA to the Palestinian refugees in the various fields.

He reaffirmed that there should be a clear distinction between Palestinian refugees and the assistance, donations and sustenance provided to them through UNRWA, on the one hand, and the rest of the Palestinian people and the support and assistance provided to them, on the other. The question of Palestinian refugees was one for which the international community bore responsibility until an acceptable and just settlement of it was reached. His Government appealed to the major donor countries and institutions not to abandon the Palestinian refugees under any pretext.

Responding to the needs of Palestinian refugees, developing the essential services provided to them and affording them the minimum degree of a dignified life contributed positively to their attitude towards developments in the peace process, he said. Depriving the refugees of primary services due to the decline in UNRWA’s resources would not only diminish their support for the peace process, but also turn them towards extremism and violence.

YACUB YOUSIF AL-HOSANI (United Arab Emirates) said that the report of UNRWA reflected clearly the situation on the ground. The continued displacement of the Palestinian people, with all the human suffering that it entailed, had placed enormous pressure on the region. The services of the Agency were provided to the registered refugees in the area. Their number now exceeded 3 million, yet the level of services had decreased, due to a decline in financial resources and donor assistance to the Agency.

Development agencies and the donor community should continue to provide assistance, he continued. He hoped that UNRWA would overcome its financial difficulties. His country looked forward to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, which would ensure the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland. He stressed the importance of the United Nations fulfilling its obligations in support of the Palestinian refugees.

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