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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
General Assembly
2 July 2014

General Assembly

          Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


‘AN UPHILL STRUGGLE’, United Nations Seminar Told

The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held at the United Nations Headquarters in Nairobi from 1 to 2 July, focused today on the Palestinian National Development Plan 2014-2016, titled “Long-term strategies of the State of Palestine for Economic Development and Growth”.

Speaking in the Seminar’s second plenary, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, introduced the Development Plan, cautioning that its implementation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would be extremely difficult, given tensions on the ground. He cited earlier presentations from United Nations agencies, funds and programmes with operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, all of which painted a grave picture of the current situation, including high unemployment rates and limited economic opportunities, the ongoing blockade, and general uncertainty about the future. Those were among the challenges to the Plan’s implementation, as compared to other countries where a Government was in complete control of its borders, skies and natural resources.

The National Development Plan was the third tri-annual economic plan, plagued by ways to reduce the budget deficit. Nevertheless, Palestinian development plans, having built on each other, received high marks from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Union and the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee. There was considerable international oversight with regard to the planning documents, and that welcome engagement encouraged transparency.

Seven pillars, approved by Palestine’s Council of Ministers on 2 May 2013, guided the current plan’s development, which centered on enhanced national ownership; broad, effective participation; results-oriented planning and budgeting; realistic and achievable outputs; institutionalized planning processes; enhanced accountability and transparency; a gender-responsive approach; and respect for human rights. Based on performance evaluations and lessons learned, the blueprint comprised four key sectors: economic development and employment; good governance and institution-building; social protection; development; and infrastructure.

Mr. Mansour emphasized the highly participatory approach taken in its implementation, noting the anticipated challenges and the need to address them. Those included the Israeli occupation, internal political and administrative divisions, a deteriorating economic situation and ongoing financial crisis, and poverty and unemployment. Specific programming in support of both women and youth was envisaged, with the overarching goal focused on improving services to the Palestinian people in areas such as water, roads and energy supply, especially in the Gaza Strip. It was also noted that the Plan had been developed in close collaboration with representatives of the United Nations system in Jerusalem.

Following that, participants heard a presentation by Kito de Boer, the incoming Director for the Initiative on the Palestinian Economy, which had been launched by the Office of the Quartet Representative with the support of the United States Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. de Boer said that Palestine benefitted from a lean and dynamic private sector — and in that sense, it was farther along than many other places in the world. That suggested that the economy would flourish if the obstacles were fully removed. He discussed the origins of the initiative, which was rooted in work done on behalf of the Portland Trust. Based on that earlier work, the main challenge for Palestine was to create 1 million jobs over the next 15 years with the aim of reducing unemployment to less than 8 per cent.

However, he went on, the current context made that difficult as private investment had fallen by 40 per cent in just four years. There was an urgent need to increase investment, and the initiative represented a public-private partnership to attract it. Many multinationals were not interested in the Palestinian economy, as it was small in global economic terms, he said, noting too that many investors, including from the Palestinian Diaspora, perceived a certain corruption and complexity.

Those attitudes were dated, declared Mr. de Boer, stressing the need for partners to be better informed, as once investors learned more about the actual situation in Palestine, they often became more interested. Palestinian trade with Israel was at $4 billion, or three times higher than it was with the rest of the world, he said, adding that that showed the many ways in which the Palestinian economy was “captive” of the Israeli economy. Projects such as import substitution were required to change that dynamic over time.

Fleshing out the initiative’s aims, he said it had been envisaged as an economic plan based on the assumption of peace. It used a bottom-up approach, and the drafters had worked closely with the Palestinian Authority and the local business community. Indeed, the design had involved 18 industries, 100 local expert advisers and an advisory board, and had included more than 50 projects across eight sectors. That fully complemented the approach of the National Development Plan’s approach, with a focus on infrastructure, including water, power, telecommunications; employment in the context of agriculture, light manufacturing, construction and building materials; and tourism.

Jurjen de Waal, Project Manager, VNG International — International Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities — and Etienne Butzbach, representing United Cities France, presented local and regional approaches to community development and capacity-building emphasizing that municipality-to-municipality cooperation was transparent, effective and complementary to large-scale, national programming. Mr. de Waal discussed his Agency’s own local economic development programme, which he said was successful because of its focus on identifying and exploiting the competitive advantages of a particular community or area. In the case of the Palestinian local economy, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises constituted the majority of the economy and those could benefit directly from local economic development programmes. However, economic initiatives in Palestine should take into account the constrained capacity of the local governments there.

Mr. Butzbach said that, for 20 years across the political spectrum, dozens of French authorities, cities, counties and regions had cooperated with their Palestinian counterparts. They hoped to contribute to the peace process and support the creation of a new State for the Palestinian people, thereby allowing Palestinians to regain their dignity and sovereignty. The hopes raised in 1994 were undermined by a deadlock in the process, as well as regressions in the field, the ongoing colonization and its “systematization”, the construction of the wall, and even the destruction of equipment built in the framework of development cooperation. Yet, many were not discouraged, he said, noting that local authorities in France, as well as in Europe overall, were redeploying efforts towards political mobilization and person-to-person exchanges.

The results of 20 years of decentralized cooperation in Palestine, he went on, had been extremely rich in human terms, but disappointing in the political context. Often, the hostile environment suppressed efforts by cities to build projects. The question was how to achieve sustainable development in the context of latent war, he said, noting that, while city-to-city diplomacy was useful, it might not circumvent that reality. However, it must, nevertheless, not become an excuse for Governments to shirk their responsibility.

He agreed with Mr. de Boer about the tremendous vitality of the Palestinian people in the face of great adversity, saying that was a source of great optimism. The motivation of French and European communities remained intact. Strong relationships had been forged with Palestinian partners, and there were a number of interlocutors in Israeli towns who had a real desire to move forward, even in the face of fraying bilateral relations.

In addition to those presentations, a representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in Nairobi made a statement describing its programmes in Palestine.

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For information media • not an official record

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