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        General Assembly
28 June 2000

Official Records

General Assembly
Twenty-fourth special session
6th meeting
Wednesday, 28 June 2000, at 3 p.m.
New York

President: Mr. Gurirab ................................................(Namibia)

In the absence of the President, Mr. Al-Douri (Iraq), Vice-President, took the Chair.

The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m.

Agenda item 8 (continued)

Proposals for further initiatives for social development

(a) Review and appraisal of progress since the World Summit for Social Development

(b) Proposals for further initiatives for the full implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development


The President: I give the floor to Mr. Mordechai Mordechai, Director-General, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Israel.

Mr. Mordechai (Israel) (spoke in Hebrew; English text provided by the delegation): This special session has been convened to tackle issues that have troubled mankind since the dawn of history. Thousands of years ago, the Bible was already teaching us that the poor would always be with us in the land and was commanding us to be open-handed with our charity. But the Bible did not regard charity — the readiness of the rich to give to the poor — to be the solution to the problem of poverty and income-distribution. It commanded that all assets should be redistributed once every 50 years, during the jubilee year, and that everything should start over again.

Five years ago, the countries participating in the World Summit for Social Development were less grandiose, and assumed a series of obligations in the area of national and international social development. Those obligations focused on eradicating poverty, finding an appropriate response to disadvantaged populations, expanding employment and searching for a delicate balance between economic and social development. I believe that every country has drawn upon the best of its resources and intellectual capacities to accomplish those tasks and to meet the challenges laid down by the Copenhagen conference.

At the same time, there is no doubt that the short time that has transpired since the conference and the limited resources available have prevented Governments from completely fulfilling the recommendations and goals with respect to social development. The data before us today indicate that we have a long way to go to attain the objectives we set for ourselves. Tens of millions of children around the world suffer from malnutrition, while at the same time the wealth accumulated by a small number of individuals is enormous and is approximately equal to the gross national product of dozens of poor countries. More than a billion people live on less than one dollar a day, in contrast to the three richest people in the world, who are “worth” more than the gross national product of dozens of the poorest countries.

Income distribution is becoming increasingly unequal, not only between countries but also within them. In Israel as well, I regret to report that in recent years poverty has increased, and social gaps have not been reduced in a significant way. On the one hand, Israel is part of the new economy, with its high-technology companies leading the way in important technological fields. Our gross national product has grown, due mainly to our ability to join the new economy. On the other hand, more Israelis are left behind, and do not enjoy the fruits of growth; too many do not find work.

That is one of the expressions of the change that has taken place in the social development of Israel since the founding of the State. We have changed from a society under siege, which placed emphasis on collectivity and common realization, to a society which places emphasis on individual rights and self-realization.

The State of Israel is proud of its achievements in the area of social development. In the last decade, Israel has absorbed a million immigrants, most from the former Soviet Union and from Ethiopia. Most of those immigrants are now integrated in Israeli society and in its cultural, political and economic life.

In spite of the ongoing security burden, Israel has turned into a modern welfare State, and the readiness of its citizens to support that welfare State has not diminished. To the contrary, our progress in many areas continues. For almost a decade, Israel has been spending more on social services than on security. Social legislation continues and expands its protection of vulnerable populations such as women, mothers, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Life expectancy in Israel is one of the highest in the world, with every Israeli being covered by the health insurance law, which provides a large basket of health services. Educational levels have steadily risen. More and more Israelis have access to higher education as well as to special educational services.

Nevertheless, we know that the real solution to the increase in poverty and unemployment is not the development of more social services and more social legislation. Rather, it is investment in education for better integration in the workplace. As early as 900 years ago, Maimonides wrote that the highest level of charity is to give people a vocation by which they can support themselves with independence and dignity.

The preferred model is not that of rich people maintaining poor people through their contributions, but that of a society based on decent work relations, where most people realize their full potential and support their families through their work. With that in mind, social institutions are responsible for developing responsive social arrangements and effective methods for the integration of needy and disabled groups in the workplace. We wish to remove hundreds of thousands of Israelis from the cycle of poverty not by making payments to them but by a reasonable minimum wage that would prevent more Israelis from falling below the poverty line. We do not seek to come to terms with rules of the economic game that endanger social solidarity, but to find solutions that combine growth and economic policy with employment and social goals, together with integration and social development.

Israel is a country with a relatively small internal market. The process of globalization is having a major effect, widening socio-economic gaps and limiting opportunities for weaker economic groups. Therefore, we ask to be full partners in the international community’s efforts to find ways to integrate economic development and growth with social development, full employment and the eradication of poverty and illiteracy.

We believe that the international community and its major institutions must find ways to give expression to the interdependence of economic and social policies and to assist countries in examining these issues as a whole. We believe that tools and measures must be developed to examine the social ramifications of economic initiatives, and to evaluate products, output and productivity in social terms.

Israel would like to be a pioneer in the development of modes and methods of regional cooperation in the areas which are at the core of the deliberations of this special session. We aspire to true cooperation with Arab countries and with others in our region, for the benefit of the social development of all peoples of the region. All have wasted too much energy and resources in areas that compromise social development, forestall the reduction of poverty, limit the advancement of education, and postpone the eradication of illiteracy.

The time has come to work together to achieve full employment, economic growth and social development for all peoples of the region. Israel has proved that it is ready to take meaningful steps in order to advance this goal.

Peace will bring an end to the hostility between peoples only if we are able to establish a network of neighbourly relations which promotes economic prosperity and social development.

The international community can play a major role in the economic and social development of this region.

The President: I give the floor to Her Excellency Mrs. Intisar Al-Wazir, Minister for Social Affairs of the Palestinian Authority.

Mrs. Al-Wazir (Palestine) (spoke in Arabic): Allow me, Sir, on behalf of the delegation of Palestine, to congratulate you on your election to the presidency of this special session. I should like also to thank the Swiss authorities for hosting this session.

This session is being held as humanity is entering the third millennium under radical international changes — politically and economically. The globalization process has been intensified due to the revolution in communications, technology, transportation and information. Our world has become a small global village with common concerns and common future.

Today, the world is confronted with great strategic and existential difficulties and problems. A collective effort is required on the part of the international community to find the appropriate solutions. These problems include the existence of weapons of mass destruction worldwide, which threatens the very survival of humanity; an increase in ethnic, religious and regional armed conflicts; the arms race; the unsustainable and irrational use of natural resources; and environmental pollution, all of which pose a threat to human life, the ecological balance and the interests of future generations. They also result in inequities in international economic relations and in a widening gap between the rich developed countries of the north and the poor developing countries of the south, where 80 per cent of the world’s poorest live. Debt problems are exhausting an important part of the resources of poor countries, thereby seriously hampering their development. In addition, there are the problems of desertification, hunger, HIV/AIDS and other epidemics.

The World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995, addressed very important issues essential to the lives of all peoples, at the forefront of which are the eradication of poverty, the elimination of unemployment and the promotion of social integration. The developments that have taken place since the Summit, including the Seattle events, indicate that the situation worldwide has not improved as had been envisaged at that Summit. The Copenhagen Programme of Action has not been fully implemented. Poverty has increased fivefold since then, as stated by the United Nations Secretary-General. Unemployment is on the rise, and social integration has been severely elusive in many countries due to ethnic, religious or national intolerance, marginalization and the weakening, or absence, of democracy.

The Palestinian people are still struggling for their right to self-determination; the establishment of their independent democratic Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital; and a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, in particular General Assembly resolution 194 (III), which guarantees their right to return to their homes and compensation for the material and moral losses they have suffered over the past 50 years.

The Palestinian leadership has consistently reaffirmed that peace is a strategic choice. In this regard, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a five-year interim accord with the Israeli Government, which ended a year ago without the full implementation by successive Israeli Governments of what has been agreed upon, under international supervision.

At the same time, the Israeli occupiers are continuing their policies and practices of land confiscation, building and expansion of settlements, building of bypass roads, uprooting of trees, demolition of houses, violation of human rights, disassociation of Palestinian cities and villages, Judaization and isolation of Jerusalem, confiscation of identification papers of Palestinian inhabitants in Jerusalem, imprisonment of Palestinians, and response to Palestinian protests with live ammunition, as well as humiliation of Palestinian citizens.

Furthermore, Israel still controls Palestinian natural resources, including 80 per cent of the Palestinian water supply. It is deepening the dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli economy in all aspects, such as production, consumption, export, import and the labour market.

While Israel refuses to implement the interim agreement, signed with the PLO, particularly with respect to the withdrawal from Palestinian territory and the establishment of safe passages between the West Bank and Gaza, it continues to manoeuvre and delay negotiations on permanent solutions to the problems of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, boundaries, sovereignty and water. It refuses to go back to the
4 June 1967 boundaries, prevents the return of Palestinian refugees and refuses to discuss the issue of Jerusalem. It seeks the annexation of settlements and rejects the creation of an Arab-Palestinian territorial continuum, in total violation of the resolutions of international legitimacy, especially Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and General Assembly resolution 194 (III). International pressure must be brought to bear at the official and grass-roots level to force Israel to comply with international resolutions in order to reach a balanced, comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Palestinian people live in a politically and economically complex situation, which in turn creates a negative social environment. More than 25 per cent of the Palestinian people live below the poverty line. Unemployment is around 12 per cent. There are 120,000 Palestinian workers who work in the Israeli market; they lose their jobs in case of closures. Economic growth indicators are weak due to the lack of investments, which in turn is due to the absence of security and the stalemate in the peace process. It is very difficult to achieve genuine social development while under occupation, with total dependence on the Israeli economy, without freedom of movement for goods and people within Palestine and with the outside world. All of these factors greatly affect our capacities in implementing economic and social policies for development.

In spite of this difficult and negative situation, the Palestinian National Authority has enacted legislation in the political, economic and social fields. There are 30 laws that play an important role in the creation of a legal environment for the social, economic and political development of the Palestinian society, and a number of new bills are pending ratification. Legislative and presidential elections were also held under international supervision. The relationship between the Palestinian Authority and non-governmental organizations is being regulated. A Ministerial Committee has been established to promote good governance. In order to achieve transparency and accountability, the Palestinian Authority is laying the foundation of political pluralism and promoting democracy and freedom of expression. It has also developed a national employment strategy in Palestine to alleviate and gradually eliminate unemployment and to promote full employment. However, Israeli policies remain an obstacle to achieving genuine development in the Palestinian economy.

The Palestinian Authority is also working to enhance national policies to combat poverty by moving from relief to development. It provides assistance to 30 per cent of poor families and gives special attention to the handicapped, newly released prisoners and the elderly. The Palestinian Authority also strives to achieve equality between men and women through legislation that takes the gender issue into consideration in development planning. Special attention is being given to the reconstruction process in Palestine, through the rebuilding of the infrastructure destroyed by the Israeli occupation. At the same time, this process is aimed at strengthening the social fabric by paying special attention to education, health, sanitation, clean water and the environment.

With its continued occupation of Palestinian land, Israel impedes social integration, especially as its policies are aimed at isolating Palestinian communities from one another. The Palestinian National Authority is striving to integrate returnees into Palestine and will devote great efforts to integrating more returnees in the future.

Our main conclusion is that there can be no real development under occupation. The basic condition for achieving real social development in Palestine is the establishment of the Palestinian independent democratic State with Jerusalem as its capital, the return of all refugees and the implementation of all relevant United Nations resolutions. This requires a concrete international mechanism to implement those resolutions and to support the Palestinian people in their struggle to realize their national rights, so that peace, security, freedom, justice, equality, economic prosperity and social development can prevail for the Palestinian people, for all the peoples of the region and throughout the world.

We wish this special session on social development the greatest success.

The President: I shall now call on those representatives who wish to speak in exercise of the right of reply. May I remind members that statements in exercise of the right of reply are limited to 10 minutes for the first intervention and to five minutes for the second intervention and should be made by delegations from their seats.


Mr. Peleg (Israel): I regret and I am disappointed that the Palestinian representative used this General Assembly special session, which is dealing with very important issues and very important challenges to the international community, to make a political statement, which has no place here. Most of that speech was irrelevant to the issues that all of us have been discussing here these past few days.

I do not intend to refer to the facts mentioned by the Palestinian representative. Many of them are not true, and many of them are taken out of context. But let me say just this: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be solved here. It will not be solved at the United Nations in New York. It will be solved — and I trust it will be solved soon — in negotiations, direct negotiations, between Palestinians and Israelis, between my Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat. In these negotiations, it is clear, both sides will have to take substantial and painful decisions.

The only way to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issues is through direct negotiations regarding employment, works, health and many other issues. I would encourage my Palestinian partner in this march for peace to work bilaterally, to work with us. I am sure, and I trust, that we will agree on a settlement of our conflict that will be satisfactory to both Palestinians and Israelis and will mark a further step in the peace process in the Middle East and thus in trying to ensure the peace, prosperity and welfare of our region.


Mr. Ghadiyeh (Palestine) (spoke in Arabic): I wish to confirm that the statement by Palestine was fully consistent with the daily suffering of the Palestinian people during their long history. The Palestinian people have lived under the oppressive occupation of Israel for over one third of a century. The fact of the matter is that what was said in that statement constitutes only a small part of the reality prevailing in our country, in which Israel carries out all types of political, economic and military oppression against our people.

I wish to add that the General Assembly and all other international institutions have a very important and substantial role to play in solving this problem between us and the Israelis, in the context of bilateral and multilateral negotiations under the auspices of the international community. The agreements made between us and Israel were not reached just bilaterally, but under international auspices.

The problem that has frozen things is the militant Israeli mentality in connection with the occupation. Israel does not want to implement resolutions of international legitimacy emanating from international institutions.

The President: I shall now call on those representatives who wish to speak a second time in exercise of the right of reply. Interventions are limited to five minutes.


Mr. Peleg (Israel): I am sure that the Palestinian representative knows that by now 99 per cent of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza live under the control of the Palestinian Authority. And surely, the social issues and concerns of those Palestinians should be dealt with by her ministry in the Palestinian Authority. I think, frankly, that the time has come for the Palestinian Authority to look inward instead of complaining all the time to the international community and trying to initiate resolutions condemning Israel, and to ask themselves how things are going within the Palestinian Authority. What about good governance? What about transparency? What about human rights?

Let me conclude by re-emphasizing and reiterating that Israel is ready to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority; Israel is ready to assist the Palestinian Authority in every possible field, because we believe that there is an interrelationship among economic prosperity, social prosperity and political stability. We are interested in all three.


Mr. Ghaddya (Palestine) (spoke in Arabic): The representative of Israel knows that 99 per cent of the Palestinian people are in fact under the civilian control of Israel, not of the Palestinian National Authority: the Israeli military could attack the homes of more than 70 per cent of Palestinians. He knows that, as a Palestinian, I need a permit to go from Gaza to the West Bank, and that I am not allowed to visit Jerusalem at all. If I wish to go abroad, I must seek a permit from Israel or remain in Israel.

The representative of Israel knows very well that thousands of prisoners remain in Israeli jails. He knows that military occupation should have ended in 90 per cent of Palestinian territory. But the reality is that the military has withdrawn from only 20 per cent of that territory. He knows that the safe passage to the north is not open, and he knows that there is no freedom of movement for merchandise or for imports and exports outside Israel.

How can the Ministry for Social Affairs solve the problems of Palestinians in such a complex economic, political and security situation? We do not need the representative of Israel to teach us any lessons about democracy and transparency; we know that Israel faces such problems itself. If Israel is so proud of being democratic, how can it be so racist towards other peoples?

The meeting rose at 6.30 p.m.

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