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


Fifty-fifth General Assembly
Fourth Committee
16th Meeting (AM)
GA/SPD/195
30 October 2000



COMMISSIONER-GENERAL CALLS FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR UNRWA

Fourth Committee Also Approves Draft Resolutions on Atomic Radiation


As it completed its general debate on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) this morning, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told by Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, that he hoped support for the agency would translate into financial assistance. Financial support had not been quite as broad as political support, but was needed to allow UNRWA to avoid problems.

Given full funding, he added, he was hopeful that the standards UNRWA had achieved would not decrease during the remaining time that its existence was necessary.

Syria's representative said his country would not accept any reduction in services to Palestine refugees on its territory. The Agency must not try to make host countries bear any additional financial burdens owing to its own financial difficulties. The present situation, created by Israel’s provocative and aggressive behaviour and by its recent excessive use of force, was unacceptable.

The Israeli delegate said his country would actively participate in any international effort aimed at providing the financial foundations for the resolution of the Palestine refugee problem. But their plight was the result of an exchange of populations caused by Arab military aggression 50 years ago, including many Jews who had fled to Israel from Arab countries. It would never be reversed. Granting the right of Palestine refugees to return to Israeli territory would be tantamount to national suicide, he explained.

Lebanon’s delegate rejected any accord that would include their final settlement in his country. That position was important, both for national reconciliation in Lebanon, and because of the Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland. Lebanon had assumed a great burden to allow them to stay, and could not also take on the burden of settling them. Their right to return home was a humanitarian and political responsibility of the international community.

The representative of the United States said that even though he supported the Agency's humanitarian work, he could not vote for any draft resolution that was political and biased. A peaceful resolution of the Middle East region's problems would only come about through negotiation between the parties concerned. As UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States believed its financial problems were best dealt with through open dialogue between the Agency and its donors, and through a strategic vision and a management plan for its future.

The Observer of the Holy See renewed his call for an internationally guaranteed statute to safeguard the sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The proper recognition of the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions, under international guarantees, must be a part of any negotiation to bring peace to the region. Moreover, the holy places should be protected from being used for political gain.

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Other speakers in this afternoon's general debate were the representatives of Indonesia, Cyprus, Ghana, Malaysia, Kuwait, Australia, Turkey, South Africa, Bahrain and Bangladesh. The Observer of the Islamic Conference also spoke.

The representatives of Jordan and Syria, as well as the Observer for Palestine, spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Following the Committee's approval of the text on effects of atomic radiation, the representatives of Belarus and Ukraine spoke in explanation of position.

When the Fourth Committee meets again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 6 November, it will take up the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices that Affect the Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

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HAZAIRIN POHAN (Indonesia) expressed profound concern over the current Middle East situation, with the peace process in tatters and mistrust increasing. He called for an end to the unconscionable use of force against unarmed civilian populations, and called attention to the worsening plight of the Palestinian refugees.

He expressed appreciation for the endeavours of UNRWA, and described many of its programs. Now more than ever, he said, the valuable programs of the agency needed to be sustained.

Indonesia had from the outset extended its unswerving support to the sacred cause of the Palestinian people, he said, and had extended assistance according to its modest abilities. Noting that a budget shortfall had been again reported, he called on donor countries to increase their support. He also called for all possible efforts to be exerted to nurture the nascent Palestinian State, including the return of refugees, so that peace could take root in the region.

GEORGE KASOULIDES(Cyprus)said that Cyprus aligned itself with the statement made by the representative of France on behalf of the European Union at the Committee’s last meeting. He expressed appreciation to UNRWA for its programs. It was a bitter irony that after UNRWA’s fiftieth anniversary, which it had been hoped would be its last, the recent disturbing developments had made it even more important.

Cyprus shared close ties with its near east neighbours and fervently hoped for lasting peace and security in the region, he said. It too had experienced displacement and the need for international aid, and its refugees were still waiting to exercise their inalienable right to return to their homes and properties.

Cyprus, he said, joined the appeals for increased contributions to UNRWA in the aftermath of the recent crisis. At the same time, it had created its own scheme of assistance, which included the training of Palestinian officials and civil servants in Cyprus, and the donation of medical supplies and personnel. UNRWA's work needed to continue up until, and ever after, a solution was found to the refugee issue. The quest for a just and lasting settlement continued, but human beings must be foremost in mind.

YAW OSEI (Ghana) noted that the Palestine refugees had been displaced as a result of June 1967 and subsequent Middle East conflicts. The refugee problem was deeply rooted in a political issue, and it remained essential to settle that problem once and for all in accordance with all relevant United Nations resolutions. The current situation in the region amply underscored the need for the international community to continue its efforts to achieve a comprehensive agreement that would ensure durable peace.

He said the first priority was to determine how to sustain support for UNRWA to meet its mandate for promoting the social and economic advancement of the Palestine refugees. The negative effect of the $61.4 million shortfall in UNRWA’s cash budget had been the imposition of austerity measures, such as curtailing the expansion in socio-economic programmes in a period of growth in the refugee population.

Against that background, he said, the Commissioner-General’s strenuous efforts to keep donors informed through regular consultations and quarterly financial reports must be appreciated, not only for promoting greater transparency in the Agency’s work, but also in engendering wider support for its operations. Ghana was pleased that UNRWA had maintained management reform efforts, particularly the new budget format and ongoing efforts to implement a new financial system based on current technology.

MOHAMAD YUSOF AHMAD (Malaysia) strongly condemned the provocation that had started the present situation, as well as the continuing violence and the excessive use of force that had resulted in more than 100 deaths, many of them the very refugees that UNRWA was assisting. Malaysia called on all parties, in particular Israel, to stop the senseless death and suffering.

He reiterated the importance of the Agency’s work and expressed his country’s appreciation for UNRWA’s valiant efforts in alleviating the suffering of the Palestine refugees in often trying and difficult conditions. The Agency’s exemplary record of service, after 50 years, merited continued international support. Malaysia also commended the host Governments of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria for their continuous support and invaluable assistance to the refugees.

At the same time, he said, Malaysia was concerned about the possibly devastating effects on the refugees if UNRWA’s present precarious financial situation continued. Malaysia shared all the concerns raised by the Commissioner-General and was particularly disturbed at the revelation that one of the major factors aggravating the Agency’s financial situation this year was the unpredictable workings of world currency markets. A loss of $10 million in UNRWA’s budget substantially affected the Agency’s activities.

Mr. MOHAMED AL-ADSANI (Kuwait) stressed the importance of UNRWA’s education efforts in Jordan and Lebanon, saying they must continue. It was a matter of international responsibility that the Agency be able to provide its full services without exception, pending the resolution of the question of Palestine refugees. Those services should be provided in all of UNRWA’s fields of operation without distinction.

He said Kuwait had always given economic assistance to the Palestine refugees and had supported UNRWA with financial contributions amounting to $5 million. The suffering of the refugees was continued as a result of practices and policies carried out under the pretext of ensuring the peace and security of the Israeli people. Those practices could not be justified, especially in the light of the number of Palestinian children who had fallen to Israeli bullets since 28 September.

Kuwait was entirely behind the Palestinian people in their efforts to recover their rights as laid down by United Nations resolutions, he said. It also supported the declaration made at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 21 and 22 October. Kuwait called on Israel to abide by all United Nations resolutions and by the principle of land-for-peace. Kuwait stood ready to continue assisting UNRWA to overcome its financial difficulties.

KENNETH HODGEKINS(United States) expressed strong support for UNRWA’s work, along with its reform efforts. As UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States believed that its financial problems were best dealt with through open dialogue between the agency and its donors, as well as through the development of a strategic vision and a management plan for its future. He also called for an expansion of the donor base.

Even though the United States supported the humanitarian work of UNRWA, he said, it could not vote for any resolution that was political and biased. He said that a peaceful resolution of the area’s problems would only come from negotiation between the parties involved.

VIRGIL HAWKINS (Australia) said that Australia was a long-standing supporter of UNRWA because the country was committed to assisting the Palestinian refugees in practical ways, and because it was committed to the peace process. In fact, the Australian Prime Minister announced an additional $1 million Australian per year, in support of the peace process, during a visit to the West Bank and Gaza earlier in the year.

Since then, he said, the situation in the Palestinian territories had taken a tragic turn. The support of the international community was now more important than ever. The international community must work towards the goal of finding a just and lasting solution to the crisis.

Australia, he said, was deeply concerned at the loss of life and injuries resulting from the recent violence, and would make additional funds available. Those funds would be channeled mainly through UNRWA, in recognition of its capacity to respond quickly to the crisis. He hoped that such aid would help resolve the violence and encourage a return to the peace process.

MURAT KARAGOZ (Turkey) deplored the recent tragic events in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian areas. A just, lasting and comprehensive Middle East peace could only be found through dialogue and meaningful negotiations. The outcome of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit was a first and vital step towards moving the situation away from the brink. Faithful implementation of the summit understandings would pave the way for a better climate, eventually leading to a return to the peace process.

Since the Palestine refugees and displaced persons constituted one of the core issues of the Palestinian question, he said, UNRWA remained a key component for addressing the refugee problem by providing basic services in education, health relief and social protection. Although deeply rooted in a political issue, the problems faced by the refugees today were of an overwhelmingly humanitarian nature, calling for a collective responsibility and requiring mostly pragmatic and concrete steps.

He expressed the hope that the stalemates referred to in the reports on the University of Jerusalem/Al-Quds for Palestine refugees, on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues, and on persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities, would be studied carefully by the parties concerned, and that mutually beneficial solutions would eventually be found. The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine should also be revitalized.

FADL NACERODIEN (South Africa) said that the crucial work of UNRWA served to alleviate the immense daily suffering of the Palestinian people, and went a long way to restoring their fundamental human rights and dignity. It was also the underpinning of the stability necessary for peace. It should be given the fullest financial support of Member States, United Nations agencies and other organizations.

The services of UNRWA, he said, were particularly necessary during the current tragic situation, which made Israel's obstruction of its operations particularly disturbing. South Africa firmly believed that peaceful negotiation was the means to lasting peace, and that the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence were pivotal in that regard.

In addition, he said, the international community needed to ensure protection of civilians in time of war, so that they could live a life as normal as possible in accordance with their laws, culture, and traditions. In supporting the resolution before the Committee, he reaffirmed the responsibility of the United Nations towards the Palestinian people until a just, comprehensive, and lasting settlement was achieved based on the relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that more than 50 years after the catastrophe that had created the refugee problem, there was still no sign that the Palestine refugees would recover their rights, including the right to return and the right to their property. The General Assembly had reiterated those rights every year. Consecutive Israeli governments had not only been intent on ignoring those resolutions, but had been bent on provoking the situation.

Noting that the Palestine refugees were facing very difficult economic and social conditions, he said Syria fully appreciated UNRWA’s efforts, and the challenges it faced as detailed in the Commissioner-General’s report. The Agency’s services had dropped to an unacceptable level due to the reduction of finances for its work. As a host country, Syria had exerted enormous efforts to assist the Palestine refugees.

He said his country, which extended numerous services to the Palestine refugees and bore a considerable financial burden in that regard, would not accept any reduction in UNRWA’s service to the refugees on its territory. The Agency must not try to make host countries bear any additional financial burdens owing to its own financial difficulties. The present situation, which was created by Israel’s provocative and aggressive behaviour and its excessive use of force was unacceptable.

NAJI ABIASSI (Lebanon) complimented the Commissioner-General and the staff of UNRWA on their work under difficult circumstances, and thanked donor countries for their contributions. He condemned the crimes of the Israeli forces, committed against the Palestinian people as they exercised their right to rise up. Those events showed the limits of bilateral agreements without protection for Palestinian people everywhere. He called for the withdrawal of Israel: forces to the borders of 1967, and for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Until that came about, he said, UNRWA must continue its work. He reaffirmed Lebanon’s strong support for the Palestine refugees and, at the same time, rejected any accord that included a final settlement of Palestine refugees in Lebanon. That rejection was important for reasons that concerned national reconciliation within his country, and also concerned the rights of the refugees to return to their homeland. Lebanon had assumed a great burden to allow the refugees to stay, and could not also take on the burden of their final settlement. The right of return was a humanitarian, as well as a political, responsibility of the international community.

In addition, he expressed interest in UNRWA preserving its archives. And he said that southern Lebanon was still awaiting solidarity from the international community for its development, after the Israelis were forced to withdraw. He said that the current situation had been caused by Israel closing the door to peace. He was concerned that it created the possibility of a new exodus of refugees and hoped that United Nations would act in such a way as to prevent further conflict and affirm the rights of all peoples.

FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) said UNRWA had been responsible for whatever social and economic progress had been achieved by the Palestine refugees. It had emerged from the documents before the Committee that the deficit in UNRWA’s budget meant an embarrassing lack of liquidity.

He said the reduction in financing over the past few years had weakened the Agency and its principal donors must be urged to provide voluntary additional donations to improve its serious financial situation. The scarcity of working capital, accumulated deficit and structural deficit affected its programmes. As a result of demographic growth, UNRWA had been forced to give up programmes that had been part of its regular programme budget.

The question of Palestine refugees was a constituent of the Palestinian cause, he said. Although it was tackled from its refugee aspect, it was also a political issue. Israel’s refusal to apply General Assembly resolution 194 (III), relating to the refugees’ right of return, had made it necessary for UNRWA to maintain its services in accordance with General Assembly 302. The Agency had begun to seem like a permanent feature, and it would be indispensable until a solution was found to the Palestinian question in accordance with United Nations resolutions on the Middle East question, especially Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

SHAHDAT HOSSAIN (Bangladesh) commended UNRWA on its work. It represented the commitment of the international community to the Palestine refugees. Bangladesh was concerned about funding shortfalls, and appreciated the advance payment from the United States. He was particularly concerned that cash shortages negatively affected UNRWA programs and the well-being of Palestine refugees.

Bangladesh appealed to the international community to come forth with more funding, he said. UNRWA not only enhanced the socio-economic conditions of the refugees, it also contributed to stability in the region. Urging a greater emphasis on human development, he commended UNRWA on its efforts to economically empower Palestine refugees through a micro-credit programme. Bangladesh again offered to share its experiences in the field of micro-credit with Palestine.

He was concerned that impediments had been placed before UNRWA operations in the name of security procedures. He called upon all concerned to honour their commitments and respect the mandated work for the displaced Palestinian people.

DAVID ZOHAR (Israel) expressed appreciation for the excellent humanitarian work of UNRWA. He noted that the UNRWA report covered a period during which the blessings of peace were beginning to be realized, including economic benefits to the population of the West Bank and Gaza. Those positive developments now threatened to become undone by the violence that had been incited by the Palestinian Authority.

Concerning the right of return of the refugees, he said that fifty years ago an exchange of populations was caused by the aggression of the Arab armies. That exchange included many Jews fleeing from Arab countries to Israel. It was never going to be reversed. A right of return of refugees to Israeli territory would be tantamount to national suicide. As previously stated, however, Israel would actively participate in any international effort and fund aimed at providing the financial foundations for the resolution of the refugee problem.

Replying to allegations of Israeli obstruction of UNRWA operations, he said that the Israeli authorities cooperated with UNRWA within a framework of regulations established through mutual agreement, and according to Israeli law. They made all efforts for smooth passage of personnel and goods. He described recent efforts to improve the situation, but stressed that all problems would be lessened by the resumption of the peace process, which would in turn depend on Palestinian cooperation.

While strongly supporting further financial assistance to the valuable humanitarian work of UNRWA, he said he objected to anti-Israel propaganda contained in textbooks used in UNRWA schools. Denying Israel’s right to exist, these texts violated the peace process. He urged supervision of such educational material. In addition, he called for consolidation the many resolutions concerning UNRWA into one resolution focused on humanitarian issues, and trimmed of irrelevant, biased political comment. He expressed approval of the Member States that had encouraged a return to peace negotiations during the debate. The inflammatory rhetoric used by others in the Committee could only harm efforts to bring peace. Finally, he called upon Lebanon to establish effective control over the areas from which Israel had withdrawn.

RENATO MARTINO, Observer for the Holy See, said that the deaths and injury of so many, the disruption of vital social services and the needs of scores of families, whose members had suffered as a result of the recent violence, placed even greater demands on the limited resources of agencies attempting to provide some normalcy in the lives of the refugees.

The international community should continue to assist Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence, and should address the basic issues of justice and freedom, he said. The humanitarian aid provided to the refugees by UNRWA and the Pontifical Mission to Palestine would continue, but they should not be understood to be a substitute for a just, stable and definitive solution to the region’s problems.

In light of the recent violence, he renewed the Holy See’s call for an internationally guaranteed statute to safeguard the sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The proper recognition of the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions, under international guarantees, must be a part of any negotiation process which would bring peace to the region. Moreover, the holy places should be protected from being used for political gain.

YUSSEF KANNAN, Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, reiterated that UNRWA's role remained indispensable, and reaffirmed that resolving the problems of the Palestine refugees was a prerequisite for the establishment of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. Such a solution must be based on total Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967 and implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions.

He said the United Nations had a permanent responsibility for all aspects of the question of Palestine, including the problem of Palestine refugees. The international community should give UNRWA all necessary financial support to enable it to fulfil its work, until a comprehensive and lasting settlement was achieved that would allow the Palestine refugees to return to their homes and properties.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference supported the proposal by the Palestine delegation for the revitalization of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, he said. The issue of refugee compensation was considered an integral element of, but not a substitute for, their right of return. In that regard, reference should be made to the International Conference on Palestine Refugees, organized in Paris last April by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in cooperation with Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States.

PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, thanked everyone who had participated in the debate and had reaffirmed their strong support for UNRWA. He hoped that such support would translate into financial support, which had not been quite as broad, to allow UNRWA to avoid problems. There had been no increases in salary for more than five years to a staff that had shown a high amount of dedication, especially during the past few tragic weeks.

Given full funding, he was hopeful that the standards UNRWA had achieved would not be decreased during the remaining time that UNRWA remained necessary. In that way, the refugees would not doubt the commitment of the international community. He warmly thanked those countries that had contributed generously.

Rights of Reply

Mr. SHRAIDEH (Jordan), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that his country's granting of citizenship to Palestine refugees did not preclude them from exercising their full rights. They still had the right to return and to enjoy full compensation for their psychological suffering.

Ms. ABDELHADY-NASSER, Observer for Palestine, said, in exercise of the right of reply, that Israel's representative had tried yet again to absolve Israel of responsibility for the plight of the Palestine refugees. Israel had a moral, legal and financial responsibility in that regard. It was a fact that they had not been allowed to return solely because of Israel’s rejection and intransigence.

She stressed that Palestine refugees living in camps in the occupied territories remained under Israeli occupation. The occupation had not ended and continued to impact on all Palestinian people, particularly the refugees. The current situation was a result of Israeli provocation which had begun on 28 September and continued to the present day, with the presence of Israeli tanks and military forces around Palestinian towns as well as the use of excessive force against Palestinian civilians.

Mr. MEKDAD (Syria), also exercising the right of reply, said that the statement by the representative of Israel was the opposite of the truth. The Arab people, known for their tolerance and belief in peaceful coexistence, had not mistreated the Jews who remained in Arab countries and had always treated them with great respect. Israel had been behind the events that had caused them to emigrate. The idea of an exchange of inhabitants referred to by Israel's representative was ridiculous. People were not commodities to be bought and sold.

He said Israel had caused the Palestinian exile and it was therefore wrong to expect the Arab countries to support the Palestine refugees. It did not make sense that Arab countries possessing oil should assume responsibility for those whose exile had been caused by Israel. Palestine refugees throughout the world would like to return to their homes, towns and villages.

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