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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


ECS/0146
23 July 2001


ECOSOC DISCUSSES SITUATION IN ISRAELI-OCCUPIED TERRITORIES


Debates Implementation of Declaration on the Granting of Independence
to Colonial Countries and Peoples



The Economic and Social Council this afternoon debated the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, hearing two United Nations officials and several Middle East countries allege that Israel's aggression in the region has stifled economic development and spurred environmental degradation.

The discussion was promoted by a report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people which said that the past 10 months of violence had led to a shift from normal assistance to a crisis response. Introducing the report, Francis Okelo, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said general activities that had been carried out before had made the Palestinian territories one of the largest recipients of aid in the world. However, the outbreak of the conflict last September had dashed many of the Palestinians' hopes for a better future, and had had far-reaching economic and psychological effects. There had been a drastic re-orientation of funds and programmes to meet emergency needs and to focus on such matters as health and employment relief. The attempt now was to strike a balance between relief and development enhancement.

Mervat Tallawy, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, said the report of the Secretary-General on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan, showed that the Israeli occupation had inhibited investment and growth in the region. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods had led to the loss of jobs and trade revenues, Ms. Tallawy said, and border closures had resulted in an average unemployment rate of more than 38 per cent per month among Palestinians. Further, she said, the number of people living below the poverty line had increased by 50 per cent. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage had been identified on infrastructure, private property and agricultural land, she said. Expanded settlements, she said, led to increased pollution. Various waste products, including industrial and hospital wastes, were dumped on Palestinian land, which contaminated water resources and had a devastating effect on public health, she said.

The Council also discussed the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Bernard Tanoh-Boutchoue, Acting Chairman of the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, said the 17 non-self governing territories, mostly small island territories that were located in the Caribbean and Pacific regions -- needed the help of the entire United Nations system in seeing the unfinished business of de-colonization. He said that there needed to be a recognition of the legitimate aspirations of those territories to exercise their right of self-determination.

In addition, the Council discussed items on the agenda under the heading 'coordination, programme and other questions', which included a report on the long-term programme for Haiti. Other issues involved included the annual report of the Administrative Committee on Coordination on international cooperation in the field of informatics. Addressing the Council under this item were Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs Patrizio Civili, Chairperson of the Committee for Programme and Coordination Sharon Brennen-Haylock, Johan Scholvinck of the Division for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination, and David Alnwick, Project Manager of Roll Back Malaria at the World Health Organization.

The national delegations that participated in the debate were Palestine, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), and Jordan. Further, the Palestinian Authority and Israel each exercised a right of reply, and the Palestinian Authority exercised a second right of reply.

The Council will meet again on Tuesday, 24 July at 10 a.m. to continue with discussions on the 'coordination, programme and other questions' item.

Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation

Under this agenda item the Council had before it a note by the Secretary-General (E/2001/17) on economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan, which reports that, among other things, Israeli occupation inhibits economic growth and investment; under various closure measures Palestinians are prevented from entering into Israel and usually imports from and exports to the Gaza Strip are prevented; Israeli occupation forces continue to impose restrictions and obstacles on the trading activities of the Gaza Strip; the main impact of mobility restrictions and border closures has been the disruption of productive activities and the circulation of goods; and that loss of employment in Israel plus mobility restrictions and border closures have resulted in an average unemployment rate in occupied Palestine of 38 per cent in the first nine months of 2000.

Statements

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE, Acting Chairman of the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, said it was necessary for the special agencies and the international organizations to strengthen the Committee's assistance to the non-self governing territories. The Council was the custodian of Article 55 of the United Charters, which singled out the principle of equal rights and self-determination. It was hoped in the Committee that the United Nations system as a whole would help in seeing the unfinished business of de-colonization. With the launching of the Second International Decade for the Elimination of Colonialism, there were 17 territories -- mostly small island territories that were located in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. The Committee reviewed the information provided by the administrative powers, and from the controlling governments, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others, about the situations in these territories. During its 2001 session, the Committee adopted a unanimous decision on Puerto Rico. The views of the non-self governing territories had to be taken into account by the Committee. There had been dialogues with France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States, albeit informally. This had been an opportunity for progress.

Through the Committee's session, most participants spoke about the need for the Council and the Committee to provide adequate assistance to the territories. The resolution recognized the legitimate aspirations to the people of the territories to exercise their right of self-determination. The resolution also asked the specialized agencies to accord priority to the people of the territories in their work. These territories needed help on important international issues like the environment, natural disasters, illegal exploitation of marine resources, drug trafficking and money laundering. The President of the Council was also requested to convene a joint meeting with the Committee to help build on the preliminary contacts that began two years ago in New York. The working group set up by the Committee last year recommended that the provisional agenda of such a meeting should include, among other things, improvement of information channels for non-self governing territories on United Nations activities in the economic and social fields. It was hoped that the resolution would be adopted unanimously.

FRANCIS OKELO, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, introducing the report (E/2001/97) of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people -- a report not available at the time of his presentation -- said the document described both assistance given and efforts to respond to the recent and ongoing crisis in occupied Palestine. There had been a shift from normal assistance to crisis response; general activities had been carried out before that and had made the Palestinian territories one of the largest recipients of aid in the world. However, the outbreak of the 10-month-old conflict last September had dashed many of the Palestinians' hopes for a better future and had had far-reaching economic and psychological effects, and there had been a drastic re-orientation of funds and programmes to meet emergency needs, focusing on such matters as health and employment relief. The attempt now was to strike a balance between relief and development enhancement. The international community was called on to provide the resources necessary to sustain assistance programmes to Palestinians.

Closures by Israeli forces were severely harmful to the well-being of Palestinians and their institutions, Mr. Okelo said. The crisis also was having a traumatic psychological effect on women, children, and on unemployed men in the occupied territories. Resumed negotiations were vital to preventing further damage.

MERVAT TALLAWY, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, in presenting a report of the Secretary-General on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan, said a Security Council resolution last October had expressed deep concern over the tragic events that had taken place since 28 September, and which had led to numerous deaths and injuries, mostly among Palestinians. It should be noted, however, that the situation had deteriorated further in recent months. Delays in the implementation of the peace agreements, or their partial implementation, together with the expansion of settlements, the closure of 'safe passage' routes connecting areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority with the outside world, the excessive and unlawful use of military weapons against civilians, the random use of firearms and the demolition of houses, continued to contribute to the deterioration of the living conditions of the Palestinian people. The report, which was based on various Israeli, Palestinian and international sources, indicated that 59 per cent of the West Bank, 20 per cent of the Gaza Strip and 30 per cent of East Jerusalem were still under exclusive Israeli control.

The report, she continued, also pointed out that the current Israeli Government had set no restrictions on settlement expansion. During 2000, the settler population rose by 8 per cent, and the Ministry of Construction and Housing in Israel had initiated the construction of almost 2,000 housing units. In addition, Israel planned to build over 22,000 new units in East Jerusalem with a view to increasing the Israeli population living there to 250,000 by 2020. At the same time, Israel applied discriminatory measures that severely restricted the growth of Palestinian communities and the free movement of people, seriously affecting the living conditions of the Palestinians. They were faced with the growing problem of pollution from the settlements. Various waste products, including industrial and hospital wastes, were dumped on Palestinian land, which contaminated water resources and had a devastating effect on public health. There was a severe water shortage owing to Israel's control over the supply of water. Moreover, several ongoing projects dealing with the treatment of wastes had been put on hold indefinitely.

The report showed that Israeli occupation had inhibited investment and growth, she said. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods had led to the loss of jobs and trade revenues. Border closures had resulted in an average unemployment rate of more than 38 per cent per month among Palestinians. The number of people living below the poverty line had increased by 50 per cent. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage had been identified on infrastructure, private property and agricultural land. In the occupied Syrian Golan, employment opportunities for the Arab population continued to be extremely restricted. For those fortunate enough to find work, substantial wage differences prevailed, and employees had no access to social benefits, health insurance or unemployment compensation.

NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine) said there had been many Council resolutions on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on Palestinians and requesting the Israelis to cease activities having negative effects on Palestinian life; those resolutions also had condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, as the settlements were a major source of damage to Palestinian economic and social life and amounted to a war crime committed against the Palestinian people, along with other war crimes committed against the Palestinians by Israel. Now, for some nine months Israel had carried out a heinous war against Palestinians, Palestinian agriculture, Palestinian nature and Palestinian natural resources. The scale of the damage was tragic.

Israel had ignored the Council's resolutions and had placed itself above international law and the United Nations Charter. Imports and exports, including medicines and food, had been blocked; Israeli settlements had been turned into military garrisons and used for launching attacks against Palestinians. Any just and lasting peace would require the complete dismantling of those settlements. The strangling military pressure against Palestinians had increased to the point of massacres; children had been killed; the whole situation was beyond tolerance.

SAAD A. O. HUSSAIN (Iraq) said among the most serious human rights violations was the refusal of the right to self-determination. That was the case with the Palestinian people. This was being done systematically by Israel. The High Commissioner for Human Rights had written in a report about massive violations against the Palestinian people by the Zionist authorities. The occupying forces had gone beyond all bounds, using excessive force by the army. These forces were blocking and delaying the arrival of ambulances which were going to provide assistance to those in need. They had destroyed soil, houses, and crops, all to deprive the Palestinian people of their most basic rights on their land. This was a flagrant violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

Iraq also drew the Council's attention to the residents of the Golan Heights. Their inhabitants had lived under the control of Zionism since 1967. The occupying force had illegally built settlements there. These criminal acts, including the killing of civilians and children, were all acts which were similar to those committed by the Nazis. Those who claimed to be victims of the Nazis were now committing the same crimes. This was the price that Palestinians had to pay for sharing their land and providing asylum to these people 50 years ago. Iraq implored the international community to put an end to the illegal occupation and reaffirmed the right of the Palestinians unconditionally to self-determination. The Commission on Human Rights had affirmed this in a resolution this year.

IBRAHIM IBRAHIM (the Syrian Arab Republic) said the brutality and ferocity of Israeli practices in the occupied territories had only increased, as the report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) indicated. Industrial, touristic and agricultural investments by Israel for its own exploitation of the occupied territories had increased, and building of Israeli settlements had been stepped up; the sufferings of Palestinians and of the Syrians in the occupied Golan had increased as well. Israel continued to defy United Nations resolutions.

The principles of the United Nations Charter had to be respected by Israel as by every other country. Arab civilians languishing under the nightmare of occupation were still prevented from laying the foundations for their own economic and social development. Lately the Israeli Government had invited bidding for the construction of housing and tourist facilities in the occupied Golan; it also had plans for the expansion of current settlements. Israeli forces were carrying out assassinations in the occupied territories; they were killing children; they were detaining children and torturing them. Israel had become a rogue State outside the rules of international law. Israel must withdraw from all occupied lands.

SAEED AL-FAIHANI (Bahrain) said the continuation of the Israeli occupation had a serious economic and social impact on the Palestinian people, and on the Syrian people in the Golan. Bahrain called on Israel to put an end to its occupation, which violated the 1949 Geneva Convention. The continuation of the occupation would undermine and destroy the peace process for the entire Middle East. Without an improvement in the lifestyle there, peace negotiations would never bear fruit. The Israeli occupation had strangled the Palestinian economy. More than 125,000 Palestinians had been denied access to their jobs in Israel. Unemployment had reached 65 per cent -- totalling more than 300,000 people. This was an economic disaster.

It was hoped that these policies by Israel would not be continued. Over the last few months, unilateral actions by Israel had not ignored its accords with the Palestinian Authority. These had a serious impact on the living conditions of the Palestinian people. The international community had a duty to assist these people. The implementation of United Nations resolutions was essential. If the international community performed its duty, it would enhance the political and economic and social lives of the people. Without addressing these affects however, that would have serious repercussions on the economy, not just for the Palestinian region, but for all countries in the Middle East. That could only create further instability. The policy of imposing blockades, expanding settlements, razing farmlands, among others, would create a fait accompli on the situation -- failing peace and consolidating hatred. These were violations of international humanitarian law. Peace was the basis for economic and social development.

FAYZA ABOULNAGA (Egypt) said the Palestinian people were being subjected now to constant, persistent, widespread Israeli aggression following the provocation by Israel of a second intifada and the dead end reached by the peace process. Even children and women were not exempted from the brutal aggression. The full dimensions of the Palestinians' sufferings were not known yet, although the reports before the Council gave some idea. Urgent assistance was needed, as Israel was dedicated to destroying the Palestinian economy as well as to inflicting daily violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

The Syrian Golan also was suffering extensive economic damage from Israeli occupation and from Israeli settlements there, which were being expanded. There, too, there were restrictions on movement, exploitation of resources, and in addition exorbitant taxes were charged of Syrian residents in the occupied Golan. The international community must grant sufficient attention to the Palestinian people; it must intervene; the decision to dispatch international monitors was an important step; the request to convene the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in response to Israeli policies was also a necessary step.

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said it was regrettable that ECOSOC found it necessary to stray from the work of the Council and single out one specific country, when crises abound the world over. In listening to some of the speeches, it seemed that all of the problems of the Palestinians were laid at the doorstep of Israel -- unemployment, environment, deforestation, imbalance in foreign trade. Since 1991, with the convening of the Madrid Conference, progress with Palestinians had begun. These core issues were discussed last year at Camp David. But last year, under the direction of Mr. Arafat, the current wave of violence began. Israelis were suffering too. There were Israeli victims, Israelis were facing car bombers and suicide bombers, and were suffering the same environment. It was extremely unjust to support the violence, and then blame Israel.

If not for the violence, 125,000 Palestinians would have been going into Israel to provide for their families. Who was to blame for this situation? Those who initiated the violence. Since 1993, Israel had initiated many dialogues on the difficult issues that were singled out in the report. It was the Palestinians who had severed those ties. To turn around and blame Israel after that was the height of unfairness. Bypass roads were built because Israeli soldiers had been getting attacked on other roads. The violence and incitement should end, and working together should begin. These were two people who were destined to live together, side-by-side. Both sides should move toward co-existence. Israel was ready to do just that.

SHEBAB MADI (Jordan) said his country would continue to abide by a just, enduring and peaceful resolution in the Middle East on the basis of United Nations resolutions. This would require Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories. This was in line with Security Council resolutions. The Palestinian people should be able to reclaim their inalienable rights, including the right to return and compensation. Jordan was deeply concerned over the recent escalation within the occupied-territories, and the extremism of the forces which rejected peace. The Israeli Government was generally responsible for the danger there. Jordan did not recognize all legislative and executive decisions taken by the occupying power. It objected to the economic strangulation of the Palestinian territory. This had to be addressed by the international community.

Rights of Reply

A representative of Palestine, in a right of reply, said Israel had showed a lack of respect for the intelligence of the Council in its statement this afternoon; Israel had tried to say it was a victim of violence, when in fact it was the perpetrator of all kinds of violence; the violence in fact had started with Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. Violence was in the very essence of the Israeli occupation; it was portrayed by the killing of Palestinians by Israelis, by the uprooting of trees and by the withholding of water supplies from Palestinians. Violence was in the building of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

A representative of Israel, exercising a right of reply, said all the speakers had talked about the 'occupation' because all of them were representing Arab countries. Today was a political show -- a manipulation of the United Nations parliamentary bodies for the Palestinians' own needs. The ones who paid for the diversion were the Member States. Today, not half of the issues on the agenda were discussed. There were so many problems and crises every day and everywhere across the world, but so much time was spent on one tiny place, with no care for other problems elsewhere. The responsibility and moral accountability for the situation of the Palestinians lay at the door of Chairman Arafat. Israel had been ready to make serious concessions, but they were not accepted, and the Palestinians chose to return to violence. They lived in hardship, but they could only blame their leader. The settlements were not the core of the conflict. What the Palestinians really wanted went far beyond that. They wanted to see a Palestinian State all over the country, all over Israel. The PLO emblem still consisted of the whole map of Israel. And that was created in 1965 -- two years before 1967. Israel called on Chairman Arafat to solve the differences at the negotiating table. Israel wanted to live in peace with its neighbours, but Palestine had chosen the road of violence. Israel was ready to return to peace talks today.

A representative of Palestine, in a second right of reply, said Israel was resorting to camouflage and misleading statements in international fora. If Israel really wanted an end to violence, as it claimed, it must withdraw from the occupied territories. It was occupying Palestinian land by force and the Palestinians had the right to resist this aggression. If the situation went on for a hundred years, Israel would still be the aggressor.

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