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        General Assembly
4 September 1997

Original: Spanish

Official Records

20th meeting
held on
Friday, 22 November 1996
at 3 p.m.
New York


Mr. KITTIKHOUN(Lao People's Democratic Republic)




The meeting was called to order at 3.05 p.m.

AGENDA ITEM 84: UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES IN THE NEAR EAST (continued) (A/51/13, A/51/369, A/51/370, A/51/371, A/51/439, A/51/476, A/51/495, A/51/509, A/51/915-S/1996/235)

1. Mr. AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) stressed the importance of the services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), particularly in health care, education and humanitarian relief. Those services much be maintained so that the Agency could fulfil its mandate in accordance with the United Nations resolutions on the subject. The League of Arab States, in its resolution 5584 of 15 September 1996, had rejected any attempt to reduce or suspend the services provided by UNRWA in any of its spheres of activity, including food aid programmes. The League had also warned that the Agency's budget deficit should not be used as a pretext for imposing financial burdens of any kind on the refugees to cover the cost of those services.

2. Five years had elapsed since the Madrid agreements had initiated the peace process, but Israel was persisting in taking measures which violated the most elementary and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. Despite the agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority within the framework of the peace process, the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian refugees had not improved, and in some respects they had worsened. Israel was continuing to apply the old policy of arbitrary arrests, closure of entire areas, imposition of curfews, etc., which was incompatible with the norms and practices of international law. The situation prevailing in the occupied territories was irrefutable proof that Israel had not made any real effort to create a favourable environment for the relaxation of tension or to adopt confidence-building measures. Nor had it fully implemented the Oslo and Taba agreements. As a result, the Agency's capacity to carry out its tasks to the full in the occupied territories had been undermined, and that in turn would prolong the difficult situation of the refugees.

3. Kuwait fully supported the position of the Arab States with regard to the peace process in the Middle East, formulated at the summit meeting held in Cairo in June 1996. At that meeting, the Arab States had reiterated their irrevocable commitment to support the peace process with a view to achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and on the basis of the principle of land for peace, Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied territories and respect for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, in accordance with paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III). Since the signing of the Declaration on the Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, in September 1993, Kuwait had provided economic assistance of various kinds to the Palestinian people amounting to a total of over 25 million dollars. It was also continuing to make an annual contribution of 1.5 million dollars to the UNRWA budget and would continue to provide financial support to the Agency.

4. Mr. BIN AGAM (Malaysia) commended the work carried out by UNRWA and said that, since its establishment almost 47 years previously, the Agency had instilled hope and provided valuable services to the 3.3 million Palestinian refugees who were on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. The Peace Implementation Programme, begun in 1993, had made it possible to develop the basic infrastructure, create employment and in general improve the socio-economic situation of the refugees.

5. Malaysia believed that the transfer of the headquarters of UNRWA from Vienna to the Gaza Strip was a positive and timely step, which would make it possible for the Agency's activities to be better harmonized with those of the Palestinian Authority, so that in the future, when appropriate and feasible, those activities could be transferred permanently to the Palestinian Authority. It was to be hoped that the working relationship between UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority would be further strengthened and would become institutionalized. Malaysia noted with concern, however, the obstacles imposed by the Israeli authorities on movements of Palestinian staff of UNRWA, since that had unfavourable repercussions on the performance of their duties, as noted by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in his report. Malaysia found it regrettable that the Israeli authorities, alleging security concerns, had closed access to the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 11 occasions during the past year. Such measures were detrimental to the economic activity of those areas, increased unemployment, and led to a worsening of the socio-economic situation.

6. Malaysia shared the concern expressed by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA regarding the Agency's financial situation since, unless urgent measures were adopted, UNRWA could be forced to declare bankruptcy or completely suspend some basic programmes. Neither of those options would correspond the interests of the Palestinian people and the peace process. Malaysia hoped that the international community would make a greater effort to increase its contributions to the UNRWA budget. For its part, it would continue to make contributions to the Agency, within its capabilities.

7. At the time, Malaysia had welcomed the agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, signed in Washington on 28 September 1996, which represented an important step towards the achievement of a just and lasting solution of the Palestinian problem. It was now discouraged to see that since the election of the new Government in Israel, the peace process had taken a new direction. The newly elected Israeli authorities were refusing to respect the agreements signed by the previous Government and the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to exclude any possibility of compromise on Jerusalem or a Palestinian State, and non-fulfillment of the principle of "land for peace" were jeopardizing the peace process. The Israeli Government's decision to authorize the expansion of settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the opening of a tunnel near the Al-Aqsa mosque were also part of that process. Malaysia urged the Government of Israel to respect all the agreements signed with the Palestinian Authority and to refrain from creating new circumstances on the round which were prejudicial to the peace process, and from imposing new conditions for the resumption of negotiations.

8. Mr. SANTAPUTRA (Thailand) said that the Middle East peace process had achieved remarkable progress since the formulation of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements on 13 September 1993. After 26 years of estrangement, a negotiating process had been initiated, setting a determined start for a permanent solution to the conflict. The first stage of the negotiations had led to the establishment in May 1994 of Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. In September 1995, the seconded stage had been completed with the signing of the Israel-Palestine Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, known as the Taba Agreement. However, the final and most crucial stage, which had begun in May 1996 and involved negotiations over the permanent status of Jerusalem, the situation of Arab refugees, Israeli settlements and security arrangements, had yet to be fully accomplished.

9. The peace process had been slowed down by certain setbacks, but all the sides concerned had shown strong determination to overcome them. The summit meeting held recently in Washington D.C., and the negotiations held in Erez and elsewhere in the Middle East, were efforts to regain the momentum of the peace process. Thailand firmly believed that a durable solution could be achieved only through peaceful means, in full respect for the relevant United Nations resolutions, in particular Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). All the parties concerned should respect the commitments made in the Declaration of Principles of 1993.

10. Since the outbreak of the conflict, tens of thousands of Palestinians had become homeless, had been displaced and had had to seek refuge in various places, including the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Tunisia. The difficult situation of those refugees and the pressing need to assist them had given rise to the establishment of UNRWA in 1949. Since that time, the Agency had carried out highly commendable work. With the support of voluntary contributions, UNRWA provided health, education, humanitarian assistance and other services to Palestinian refugees. Over time, the Agency's tasks had become increasingly complex and difficult. However, even in the current situation, in which UNRWA was facing particular difficulties owing to budgetary constraints and the fact that the Israeli authorities had closed the West Bank and Gaza Strip on several occasions, the Agency had continued to provide assistance to refugees, as reflected in the report submitted to the Fourth Committee by the Agency's Commissioner-General. The General Assembly, in its resolution 50/28 A, had extended the Agency's mandate to 30 June 1999. Member States should provide it with the financial resources it needed in order to carry out its work effectively. Thailand, which for more than 20 years had had to make room for and accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons coming from its eastern and western borders, fully understood the enormous and complex task before UNRWA. Since 1960, Thailand had always made contributions to the Agency's budget and hoped that the negotiation process would lead to a just and lasting peace in the region in the very near future.

11. Mr. DOUDECH (Tunisia) condemned the decision of the Government of Israel not to abide fully by the agreements concluded with the representatives of the Palestinian people during the peace process. The attitude of the Israeli authorities had had a profound impact on the ability of UNRWA to carry out its operations and fulfil its mandate. As a result of the Israeli policies, the problems of the Palestinian refugees were increasingly complex and urgent. At the same time, the difficulties confronting the Agency as a result of those policies were much greater, particularly on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. The Agency needed a favourable environment, in which basic conditions of security were fulfilled, in order to carry out its activities and provide services to refugees. It was incumbent on the Israeli authorities to create and maintain that environment. If the refugees' situation was to improve, the new Government of Israel, as a gesture of goodwill, should take specific action to show that it was prepared to comply with the peace agreements. If such measures were not adopted as soon as possible, the situation would probably grow worse and an exceptional opportunity to establish peace would be lost. The Agency played a crucial role in improving the refugees' situation; if their situation improved, their support for the peace process would doubtless be stronger.

12. It should be noted that, in the past year, despite the very difficult circumstances in which it had carried out its activities, including the scarcity of financial resources, the Agency had continued to make a great effort to satisfy the refugees' daily needs. That extraordinary work deserved the gratitude and assistance of all. In the meantime, the number of refugees continued to increase. The aggravation of the budgetary deficit of UNRWA in recent years could have a serious impact on the implementation of a number of projects, in particular those relating to health care and education. The international community must do its utmost to resolve the Agency's enormous financial difficulties as rapidly as possible. In that connection, he wished to highlight the work carried out in 1996 by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who had organized a number of meetings with donor countries in order to obtain their support at a difficult time for the Agency. Lastly, Tunisia reaffirmed its support for the peace process in the Middle East and reiterated that it was prepared to participate in all multilateral activities and meetings organized to that end.


The meeting rose at 5.40 p.m.

This record is subject to correction. Corrections should be sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned within one week of the date of the publication to the Chief of the Official Records Editing Section, room DC2-794, 2 United Nations Plaza, and incorporated in a copy of the record.

Corrections will be issued after the end of the session, in a separate corrigendum for each Committee.

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