A United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People held a panel discussion on priorities for humanitarian and economic assistance for Palestinians with experts speaking of the need to support the Palestinian Authority's budgetary needs, to restore essential services in the occupied territories, to rehabilitate the physical infrastructure and agricultural land, to reduce unemployment and poverty, to alleviate the plight of refugees through the support of UNRWA, and to boost the recovery of the private sector.
Opening the panel discussion, Abdelaziz Abu Ghoush, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that since the inception of the OIC, it had extended all forms of assistance and support to the just struggle and institutions of the Palestinian people with the aim of helping them to preserve the historical, religious and individual character of the Palestinian cities, strengthening the Palestinian people’s resistance in the occupied territories, and safeguarding Muslim and Christian holy shrines and sanctuaries in Palestine.
Finn Martin Vallersnes, President of the Committee on Middle East Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and member of the Norwegian Parliament, said the most important Palestinian resource was the Palestinian people. An agreed framework for political progress was indispensable for the resumption of economic and social development in both Israeli and Palestinian territories, and this added to the importance of the Road Map to succeed.
Danny Rubenstein, a columnist at the Ha'aretz daily newspaper in Jerusalem, spoke of the relations between Israel and Palestine, saying the policy of separation between Israel and Palestine had had disastrous consequences for the Palestinian economy. The first step for its recovery was to get Israel to allow Palestinians to go and work in Israel again and to lift all travel restrictions.
Marie-Anne Coninsx, Minister-Counsellor and Head of the United Nations Section of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the speedy implementation of the Road Map would result in immediate benefits for the Palestinian people, and, therefore, political progress needed to be equally implemented, as did efforts to ensure economic viability.
The Palestinian Authority would continue to be helped to identify areas where support was required, and further support would also continue towards building and reinforcing infrastructure.
David Shearer, Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, said that in the past, Israelis used to buy Palestinian products while Palestinians received Israeli goods. At present, that commercial activity had been suspended. International assistance for Palestine was not enough to cope with the increasing needs of Palestinians. There was a need, he said, to highlight the humanitarian consequences of the occupation.
Richard Cook, Director of Operations at the West Bank Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said the problems faced today by the refugee population were not just economic, but social and health-related, among others.
UNRWA was more under demand than ever before, but did not have the funds to fulfill those needs, and did not in fact have even the minimum amount of funds to provide for the basic needs of the refugees. The consequences of this lack of funds would be devastating, since the refugees would be left without the barest minimum.
Donna Baranski-Walker, Campaign Manager of the Global Campaign to Rebuild Palestinian Homes, said that according to Israeli sources, only 5 per cent of houses demolished by Israel were due to punishment measures. The measure to destroy Palestinians houses for "lack of a permit" was purely a case of "administrative ethnic-cleansing". The policy of demolishing houses had inflicted a great loss of resources and properties upon the Palestinian people, and the international community was called upon to react to it.
Representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations and UN organizations then took the floor to participate in the discussion, calling for, among other things, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories, as well as an end to the policy of enclosure; and an improvement of the gender balance in politics and the inclusion of a gender perspective in the formulation of policies. Alternative means of resolving the economic situation were also proposed. The commitment of the Israeli Government to the peace process was a topic raised from the floor.
Speakers for Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, the Russian Federation, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Postal Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab States, the Israeli Peace Block, the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, the Jerusalem Centre for Women, the Gaza Centre for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Return Centre in London took the floor.
A representative of UN-Habitat also delivered a statement related to the panel discussion this morning on the dimensions of the Palestinian economic crisis. The Seminar will resumed Wednesday, July 16, to hold a panel discussion on "looking ahead: coping strategies for the Palestinian economy". — (menareport.com)
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