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Source: Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
11 October 2004

Palestine Development Forum Kicks Off

Beirut, 11 October  2004  (United Nations Information Services)-- The “Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Towards an Independent State” opened in Beirut today under the auspices of the President of the Lebanese Republic, General Emile Lahoud, bringing together more than 700 participants from the Arab world to launch an unprecedented event aimed at helping to build a secure and sustainable independent Palestinian State. The Forum is organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Speaking at the opening session were ESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy, Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League for Palestinian Affairs Said Kamal representing Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Palestinian Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Shaath, and Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, Asaad Diab, representing President Lahoud. The opening hosted a number of high-level Palestinian, Arab and international dignitaries of government and civil society institutions.

In her statement Ms. Tallawy highlighted the drastic living conditions of Palestinians, citing that, in the past four years, 47% of Palestinian households have lost more than 50% of their revenue, with poverty levels reaching 63% in 2003. Unemployment wavers between 26-36% while 2 million Palestinians live on less than US$2.1 a day. Another 42% of Palestinian households depend on humanitarian assistance.

Ms. Tallawy called the rehabilitation and development of the Palestinian Territories “one of the most important regional causes,” saying that the development of social and economic capacity should be the first line of defense in safeguarding the national Palestinian project and limiting the Israeli expansion. She also called for a shift of international efforts from emergency relief to comprehensive development, achieved by forging a true partnership between the Palestinian economy and society and the Arab region, thereby relieving the Palestinians of the isolation forced upon them for years. She added, “The Forum does not aim at putting forward a political stance, or at collecting money or donations, although there is a need for these. Rather it aims to overcome the current situation, to provide a right to life under occupation and to support the resistance and efforts to build an independent state.” She said the hope was to conduct a series of seminars and conferences to establish a real Palestinian-Arab partnership.

Speaking on behalf of the Arab League Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General Said Kamal expressed confidence in the Forum, stressing the importance of establishing a firm Arab-international partnership that can actively support the Palestinian people in achieving a free democratic state with high living standards. He added that, in addition to making contributions and compensations for damages caused by Israeli policies, practices and measures, the international community should oblige Israel to stop such policies and pay for the damages it caused the Palestinian people.

In his statement, Mr. Shaath drew on personal experience to convey the importance of the Forum and the need for creating a sustainable Palestinian state, stressing that Israeli efforts to undermine and demolish the Palestinian economy and people had severely limited Palestinian efforts to develop, but had not diminished the Palestinian will to survive.

Shaath urged participants to seize this opportunity provided from the workshops and studies presented at the Forum to understand the situation of the Palestinian people and to support all initiatives to build a modern and democratic state allied with the region. Furthermore, he added that, “we are not here to cry about our situation. We are here to say we are adamant to continue with the process of development with the aim of building our own independent state, “ stressing the need to revive the economy, to create jobs, and to build a state with strong institutions capable of survival, bolstered by dynamic partnerships in the region.” He added that the ultimate goal was to establish “an independent, stable, prosperous state we can all be proud of.”

Representing President Lahoud, Mr. Diab closed the ceremony. He emphasized the need for a follow-up to the Forum to ensure that efforts come to fruition, saying that the best way to achieve a strong state with functional institutions was to develop a plan for sustainable development. Towards this end, he urged Arab solidarity on the official and especially civil society level; an adherence to international laws and resolutions; the support for economic development in Palestine by all Arab institutions and agencies; and support for the right of return.

The Forum, which closes on 14 October, is intended to enhance Arab and international support for the socio-economic rehabilitation and development in the occupied Palestinian territories, despite ongoing conflict and occupation. Through a series of workshops and seminars, the Forum will cover topics such as the economic and social aspects of occupation and prospects for development, enhancing Arab-Palestinian partnership and enhancing international-Palestinian partnership. Several parallel workshops will be held throughout the week aimed at developing partnership initiatives, including discussions on social and economic aspects of the conflict, the role of the diaspora, private sector partnerships and women’s participation in development.

In addition, ESCWA has organized several exhibits and events taking place throughout the week to highlight the vivacity of Palestinian culture. Earlier Monday, Mrs. Tallawy and Mr. Shaath inaugurated a Palestinian cultural exhibition held in the Gibran Khalil Gibran Garden in Riad al-Solh.

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