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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
25 March 2010

General Assembly

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


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

VIENNA, 25 March -- The second plenary meeting of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People heard a panel of experts assess in detail the Palestinian Authority Programme entitled “Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State” and address such themes as gender equality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, economic independence and the role of civil society in building an independent State.

Held under the theme “Building institutions and moving forward with establishing the State of Palestine”, the two-day Seminar was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, with the aim of raising the profile of and garnering support for the Palestinian Authority Programme.

Addressing the Seminar, Suhair Azzouni, a Palestinian expert on gender and human rights issues, explained the current position of women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, saying they were subject to different citizenship, heritage, marriage, work and residency regulations in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.  He also addressed violence against women and their participation in decision-making regarding a future Palestinian State, among other issues.

Geoff Prewitt, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted some weaknesses in the Palestinian Authority, which was functioning in a hostile environment of occupation and dealing with a population that was divided geographically and politically.

Two experts, Mohammed Samhouri and Yousef Daoud, pointed to various challenges, the most important being the Gaza blockade and the continuing occupation.

Jamal Zakout, Special Adviser to the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Society and Media Units in the Prime Minister’s Office, stressed the need for civil society participation in building institutions and gaining independence, saying that the Programme was also intended to build resilience to the Israeli “settlement mentality”.

Husam Zomlot, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, addressed State-building from a more theoretical and historical point of view, highlighting the unique circumstance in which the Palestinian Authority was trying to achieve statehood.

The representative of Cuba made a statement in her national capacity.

Plenary Two

Before the experts began their presentations, Government representatives who had not been able to address the Seminar during the opening session delivered their national statements.

NORMA M. GOICOCHEA ESTENOZ ( Cuba) said the Cuban people had always taken a clear and unambiguous stand of supporting the Palestinian people’s struggle for an independent State with East Jerusalem as its capital.  She condemned the Gaza blockade and Israel’s decision to establish new settlements, which undermined any chance for negotiations to succeed, while also deploring the “dividing wall of shame”.

She said there was a lack of political will to work towards a solution, which required full implementation of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.  Paying tribute to the staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), she said the Agency should be supported through an increased regular budget.  Israel should also provide compensation for the damage UNRWA had suffered during the Israeli aggression in Gaza.

SUHAIR AZZOUNI, a Palestinian expert on gender and human rights issues, said women and many men in the Occupied Palestinian Territory aspired to a democratic State characterized by a culture of social justice, where men, women, boys and girls would enjoy equal citizenship rights and opportunities in both the public and private spheres.  The present Palestinian Authority had committed itself to gender equality and to building a State that would treat men and women equally, a commitment that required working at three levels: the enactment of gender-equality laws; the enforcement of those laws through the creation of gender-friendly structures; and the transformation of restrictive cultural norms and traditions.

She said the Palestinian Basic Law -- the constitution until the establishment of a Palestinian State -- regarded all Palestinians as equal before the law and the judiciary, without distinction based upon race, sex, colour, religion, political views or disability.  However, women did not yet have the same nationality rights as men, as those rights were still covered by laws and regulations valid before 1967 -- the Jordanian Nationality Code in the West Bank and the Egyptian Nationality Code in the Gaza Strip.  Both denied women the right to pass their nationality on to their spouses or children.  Palestinian women from the West Bank and Gaza who married Palestinians with Israeli citizenship also faced difficulties in transferring their citizenship to their family members because Israeli law denied them citizenship or residency.

Palestinians in Jerusalem faced harsh measures aimed at evicting them, she said.  Since 1967, Israel had regarded Jerusalemites as mere residents, requiring them to have Israeli residence cards.  Thousands of those cards had now been confiscated.  Those measures, combined with family fragmentation, house demolitions, the destruction of agricultural land, as well as restrictions on movement and the right to education and work, affected women and were in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Building the future State of Palestine entailed ensuring that Palestinian women and men in Jerusalem preserved their right to residency, movement and nationality.  Ensuring those rights required international bodies such as the United Nations and the States Parties to the Geneva Conventions to act immediately to stop Israeli violations of the basic human rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites.

She said a future Palestinian State should also safeguard the social rights of Palestinian women, including those governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children.  Muslim women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were still subject to the Jordanian Personal Status Law of 1976 and Egypt’s unmodified 1954 Law of Family Rights, while Palestinian Christian women were governed by laws established by their respective churches.  There must be a law to ensure equality, equity and justice, she said, adding that women should be able to receive a rightful share of their inheritance, and be well protected by the law against all forms of violence.

As for violence against women, she recalled that 25 per cent of unmarried women over the age of 18 had been physically abused and 53 per cent psychologically abused in 2006.  During the first two months of 2010, 16 “honour killings” had been registered in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she said, pointing out that domestic violence was not prohibited by law.  There was an urgent need to enact a law on the protection of women against family violence as well as a modification of the Penal Code.

The role of Palestinian women in society was not adequately reflected in various decision-making circles, she said, pointing out that women constituted only 7.5 per cent of the Palestinian National Council and 4 per cent of its Executive Committee.  Building a future democratic Palestinian State characterized by a culture of social equity would entail empowering women and enabling them to participate effectively in political decision-making.  Various other considerations, such as education, fertility rates, economic participation and the repercussions of the Israeli occupation also took their toll on the advancement of women.

The occupation and its various suppressive measures, including the killing or imprisonment of spouses and sons, increased women’s vulnerability and forced them to work for little pay, she said, recalling that, in 2007, 8 per cent of households, including 65 per cent of the poorest ones, had been headed by women.  A future Palestinian State should aim to improve the economic participation of women and increase their role in economic decision-making, while protecting them from all forms of discrimination in the work place.  A strategy for mainstreaming gender issues into economy-related ministries would also increase the rate of female labour participation.

GEOFF PREWITT, Team Leader for Governance and Poverty Reduction and Senior Governance Adviser, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that although the conditions of occupation were intolerable, it was important to be self-critical and look inwards when considering how statehood could be brought about.  Although building institutions must be a priority for a stable State-building agenda, support should also be considered for full and equal collaboration with other Palestinian actors, he said, stressing that good governance extended beyond the monopoly of formal Government institutions.

The complex dynamic in the Occupied Palestinian Territory required more nuanced and decentralized response mechanisms, he said.  In UNDP’s view, governance was a vibrant and responsive process to address a broad spectrum of issues, including the creation of representative and transparent public institutions, civil society engagement and broad consensus-building within society.  In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, however, governance was marred by a lack of autonomy brought about by the occupation.  In the face of that and of crises such as the one in Gaza, the restoration of good governance was often considered secondary to ensuring that basic needs were met.

He said the combination of external impediments and internal uncertainties, such as fragmentation and limited civic engagement, had led to a “governance dilemma”.  One aspect of the dilemma was that the Palestinian Authority’s tenuous representation and weakened capacity was destabilizing the legitimacy of Government authority and action.  That had been exacerbated by the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and full Israeli control over security, planning and construction in Area C, he said.  A second aspect was that uncoordinated aid resources had diluted hard political decisions without necessarily leading to the type of support required for public institution-building.

The political economy of donor assistance revealed a “perverse paradox” whereby the prolongation of the occupation generated increasing external assistance with limited progress toward peace and statehood, he said.  The internal political differences in the Government and the geographical division of the Occupied Palestinian Territory had resulted in continuing social fragmentation and a growing cultural polarization, which constituted a third aspect of the dilemma, he said.  The fourth aspect involved limited channels for public participation, and the questionable identity of civil society organizations such as trade unions and cooperatives, which diminished the possibilities for a genuinely pluralistic society.

He stressed that in order to repair the governance dilemma, key messages could be pursued through forums such as the Seminar.  A constructive and honest dialogue based on self-reflection should be pursued, so as to sincerely address vulnerabilities.  That would require political will, partnerships, courage in foreign aid application and forums for public discourse.  Strengthening relations between the State and its citizens was a sound investment in better policymaking and planning, as well as a core element of good governance, he said, emphasizing that it would contribute to public trust in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while raising the overall quality of democracy and promoting a pluralistic society.

Despite their commitment to State-building, donors often shied away from difficult political issues -- including the occupation - confining their governance programming to technical issues, he said.  There was a tendency to provide small-scale support for stand-alone projects rather than addressing comprehensive reform packages.  Addressing that would require more consistent, better targeted and untied aid, in accordance with the Paris Declaration, he said.  One must work closely with teams of senior civil servants and rely less on external advisers because the latter eventually left, leaving behind the civil servants who represented the sustainability of any new system.  Moreover, an overwhelming focus should be placed on sectors that would support all Palestinians, he stressed.

He said the occupation did not excuse the numerous internal dynamics that continued to weaken the judicial sector, including fragmented jurisdictions and blurred mandates, the absence of a fully functioning legislature, different legal frameworks in the West Bank and Gaza, and restricted access to justice at the local and grass-roots levels.  The Palestinian Authority, in partnership with the international community, should therefore continue to invest comprehensively in the entire justice system, he said, stressing that fulfilling justice meant not only dealing with laws and legal professionals, but also making the population understand their legal rights and obligations.

MOHAMMED SAMHOURI, former Senior Economic Adviser to the Palestinian Authority, said that the publication of the Programme represented a turning-point in the Palestinians’ long search for independence and self-determination.  For the first time in its history, the Palestinian Authority had laid out the foundations of a competent, efficient and effective public sector in preparation for statehood.  A list of national goals as well as a detailed list of actions for their implementation had been presented, he noted, stressing that the objective was to build a strong and competent Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in two years.

In assessing the plan, he said that on the technical front, the Palestinian Authority seemed to be standing on solid ground.  It was not starting its work from scratch as it had managed in the past to build public institutions comparable in many ways to those of neighbouring countries.  Reforms had continued from 2002 onwards, with various degrees of success.  However, public-sector building did not necessarily mean success, especially if the governing body was operating in a hostile environment, he cautioned.  The question was whether the public sector could function in the context of the continuing occupation.  The international community should act beyond financial support and engage in a political role that could speedily end the occupation, he said, noting that the continuing fragmentation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory could lead to Gaza being left behind in the implementation of the Programme, even though unity was one of its national goals.

YOUSEF DAOUD, Faculty of Economics, Birzeit University, West Bank, said the three basic elements of a competent, efficient and effective public sector were difficult to measure, as the provision of public goods did not have a market value.  The overriding goal of the State-building Programme was to get rid of the occupation, while restoration national unity was one of its main targets.  State-building emphasized equitable and effective provision of pubic goods, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, and shelter, education, security and health as basic rights.

In the area of governance, the Programme stipulated that efficiency and effectiveness of institutions must be improved in line with transparency, accountability and separation of powers, he continued.  The restructuring of the security apparatus must be finalized, and there was a need to control expenditure and expand the tax base so as to achieve fiscal stability.  There were basic criteria by which the public sector’s inefficiency could be measured, including overstaffing and lack of the “rigours of competition”, he said.  Criteria for measuring effectiveness included defining goals in advance, considering costs and the timely provision of services.  Criteria for gauging the public sector’s competence included transparency, education of public sector workers and repercussions for misconduct.

Turning to the Palestinian Authority’s financial stability, he said there seemed to be a negative relationship between grants and income from customs.  When customs revenues were down, donor contributions increased.  That trend was a source of instability since there was a heavy dependency on foreign sources to finance the budget, which now stood at 40 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), while that of Greece was 11 per cent.  Domestic revenues were insufficient to pay the salaries of civil servant, and if donors refused to make up the deficit, the governing body would shut down, he warned, noting that the private sector was also regressing.  The better educated workforce was employed by the public sector, but paid lower than their private sector counterparts, which sent a message that there was no value in education, he said, noting that per capita expenditure on security had increased 75 per cent from 2004, and spending on education by only 60 per cent.

In an assessment of the plan, he said that ending the occupation was a necessary condition as the Palestinian Authority was unable to function without sufficient policy tools.  There was a need for technical training, organizational enhancement and international support, as well as a need to increase the resilience of the people.  International support was needed to increase job creation, and the Palestinian Authority must put more emphasis on education.

JAMAL ZAKOUT, Special Adviser to the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and Head, Civil Society and Media Units, Office of the Prime Minister, said the goals of building institutions and ending occupation were not contradictory, but part and parcel of the Palestinian Authority Programme -- the so-called Fayyad Plan.  However, institution-building would not in itself end the occupation, and the Palestinian Authority could not carry out institution-building on its own.  All resources should be mobilized, he stressed, adding that a main objective was to rebuild the private sector and civil-society institutions.  Civil society had played a distinctive role in providing basic services before 1994.  After that year, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority had given rise to a somewhat unhealthy relationship between the governing body and civil society.  In addition, the collapse of the political process in 2000 had changed the character of the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said, pointing out that the military occupation had led to the further deterioration of civil society.  That was the context in which the Palestinian Authority had to act, he added.

Institution-building could not be de-linked from ending the occupation or from the need to rally all forces of civil society, he stressed.  The Palestinian Authority could not be the sole player.  Success in ending the occupation required the enhancement of basic resources, which in turn entailed establishing modern and efficient institutions that provided basic services in a transparent way.  The partnership between the private and public sectors built over the last three years had been a qualitative leap, but, because of Israeli obstacles, Palestinians had not been able to tap all available resources.

The main achievements in security and law and order, especially in the West Bank, had not transformed into a political process that could end Israeli incursions, he said, noting that Israel treated Area C, which covered 60 per cent of the West Bank, as if it were one of the permanent status issues, and considered it a vital space for settlement expansion.  Israeli restrictions should be lifted in order to promote investment in that area.  The Programme spoke clearly about the right to resist occupation, but also considered settlement construction and activities in disputed areas a denial of the population’s access to resources.  The Programme intended to unleash Palestinian capacities by reinforcing peaceful resistance, an absolute right under international law, he said, emphasizing that building institutions was also a form of peaceful resistance.  Israel had shown by its actions that passive resistance was now prohibited as well.  The Palestinian Authority wished to create a direct partnership with civil society to mobilize peaceful resistance.

HUSAM ZOMLOT, research fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, said that generally, State-building followed the successful conclusion of conflict, where post-conflict reconstruction was a physical exercise and the absence of war would lead to institution-building.  The concept of establishing viable institutions had started in the 1990s and there had been a mushrooming of State-building in conflict zones.  Palestinians were not the only ones to receive State-building support, he said, pointing out that Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo had also gone through the process of working towards statehood.  The difference was that there was no peace agreement covering the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the political space for a Palestinian State had not yet been carved out.

He said there had been a gradual increase in the Palestinian Authority’s performance over the last two years.  The population’s trust was being re-established, which would increase its power to bargain with Israel.  The State-building agenda had enabled Palestinians to regain the initiative and channel the population into a positive and proactive campaign.  It had deprived the Israelis of their two main excuses -- the lack of security and the absence lack of leadership.  By establishing a timeline of two years, the Programme had started the clock ticking, he said.

However, the Palestinian Authority’s bold initiative faced serious challenges that were neither technical nor financial, he cautioned.  The Programme was operating in the most hostile environment, and its immediate challenge emanated from Israel.  Another challenge involved political and popular approval.  The Palestinian Authority had much to do to win support for its State-building agenda among the main factions, in particular those in Gaza and the diaspora.  Its legitimacy would not only be derived from its institutions, but also from the degree to which it performed its functions, of which the main one was ending the occupation.

Lifting the siege on Gaza was the most urgent impediment to State-building, he said, stressing also the urgent need to hold elections as soon as possible in order to arrive at a legitimate political system.  As for the international community, it should no longer help parties to reach agreement since the long-held assumption that a two-State solution was in Israel’s interest was not accurate.  A more sensible strategy for donors, in addition to institutional support, was to ensure enabling conditions for the Palestinian economy and polity, with a focus on empowerment and coping strategies.  It must also ensure institutional and economic efficiency as well as resilience.

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For information media • not an official record

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