Statement by Ms. Feda Abdelhady Nasser, First Secretary, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the U.N., before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), Agenda item 84: UNRWA, 50th Session, 30 October 1995:

Mr. Chairman,

At the outset, allow me to convey the congratulations of my delegation upon your election to the chairmanship of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee and to offer congratulations to your colleagues who have been elected to the bureau of this important committee. We are confident that your leadership and organizational skills will contribute greatly to the success of our work during this fiftieth session of the General Assembly.

Mr. Chairman,

Item 84 on our agenda, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, remains one of the most important General Assembly items to my delegation. This item involves consideration of UNRWA's work at all levels, including modalities and function, but also deals with the larger and extremely important issue of the Palestine refugees itself - the oldest and biggest refugee problem in the world. We believe that resolutions adopted by the General Assembly on this item should reflect this reality. The forty-ninth session of the Assembly effectively achieved that as a comprehensive and a more broadly acceptable package was reached in this regard, and we should continue in that direction.

It is true, Mr. Chairman, that the Middle East peace process has produced many positive developments. However, we must be careful to remember that at this stage we are dealing with a transitional period and negotiation on the problem of the Palestine refugees, among other important final status issues, was postponed to the second stage of the process. As such, the international community, represented by the United Nations, should maintain its position of principle on this issue to assure the Palestine refugees that they will not be forgotten and that their rights will be safeguarded until they are realized.

Mr. Chairman,

3.2 million Palestine refugees, including some of the persons displaced in 1967, remain dispersed throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and other places. Those refugees continue to endure the many hardships of their status as they await materialization of a just and comprehensive resolution of their plight on the basis of the right of repatriation or compensation, a position adopted by the international community in General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, as defined in paragraph 11 of the resolution. As it has done annually, the General Assembly last year noted "with regret that repatriation or compensation of the refugees, as provided for in paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III), has not yet been effected". Until the full implementation of this resolution has been achieved, the international community must continue to reaffirm its fundamental position in this regard and to provide the needed assistance in support of the valuable work of UNRWA, in the fields of education, health and relief and social services, for the Palestine refugees.

Mr. Chairman,

Recent developments in the peace process, including the interim agreement of 28 September 1995, have impacted upon the landscape on which the activities and operations of UNRWA are carried out. Further changes are expected as the Palestinian National Authority will soon be responsible for all populated areas in the West Bank. A major development in this respect has been the forging of a cooperative working relationship between the Agency and the Palestinian National Authority with which we are satisfied at this stage. We look forward to further developing and institutionalizing that relationship. Also, the decision of the General Assembly on the relationship between the Advisory Commission of UNRWA and the Palestine Liberation Organization has been partially implemented, and we believe more steps need to be taken to fully implement that decision.

We welcome the progress made thus far in relocating the headquarters of UNRWA from Vienna to Gaza, in the area under the Palestinian National Authority. It is unfortunate, however, that the Agency has been able to achieve only limited progress in this regard due to financial constraints and the problems it has experienced in transferring supplies and personnel into and out of Gaza because of restrictive measures and difficulties imposed by the Israeli authorities.

Mr. Chairman,

We would like to stress the importance of the work that is being done to harmonize the programmes and services of UNRWA with those of the Palestinian National Authority in an attempt to achieve a balanced programme and avoid duplication through the establishment of coordination mechanisms in the education, health and relief and social services sectors. On the other hand, we do not support any idea to transfer the Agency's responsibilities and operations to the Palestinian National Authority at this stage. We stress that any transfer of responsibility should be part of a comprehensive solution of the refugee problem. Clearly, harmonization and complimentarity are desirable technical matters, but transferal of responsibilities is a matter which requires political solution.

The meeting of major donors and host governments in March of 1995, during which UNRWA proposed a five-year financial and planning framework to correspond with the interim period set out in the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993, was timely. We wish to emphasize the consensus which arose at the meeting, stated in the Report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (A/50/13), that "UNRWA services were a crucial element in the success of the peace process and would continue to be required until such time as a political solution to the refugee problem was found". We agree that it is absolutely premature to even contemplate a time-limit on UNRWA's existence; it is much more important to affirm the role of the Agency, particularly in response to the concerns and fears expressed by the refugee community that it would no longer be provided with UNRWA's essential and basic services. At this point, I wish to emphasize the absolute necessity of continuing and improving the services of UNRWA in the three other fields of operation (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria).

We do recognize that, in response to the changes produced by the peace process, and in support of the process, the Agency continues to take on initiatives in addition to the regular services it has been providing over the many years. Projects under the second phase of the Peace Implementation Programme (PIP), which began in October 1993, have been exceedingly productive in the areas of income generation and job creation at the local level in in the Agency's five fields of operation, as well as in terms of infrastructural development through necessary construction and renovation of schools, clinics and hospitals, the rehabilitation of refugee shelters and the provision of adequate sewerage in the camps. The Agency's work in this regard should be applauded, and all efforts should be exerted to maintain this valuable programme.

Mr. Chairman,

It is unfortunate that once again this year the Commissioner-General of UNRWA has had to report on the continuing difficulties and impediments the Agency faces in carrying out its responsibilities as a result of restrictive and punitive Israeli measures. The repeated closure or sealing of the occupied territory, including Jerusalem, and the imposition of stricter measures with regard to permits and checkpoints, including extensive searches and the partial dismantling of vehicles, which in some instances has rendered vehicles damaged, continued to hinder, and at times even prevent, the movement of UNRWA staff and supplies. Such practices interfered with the Agency's ability to operate and exacerbated already difficult circumstances overall.

Also, the situation of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, many of them refugees, has not been completely resolved and remains of high concern. At this time, we would like to express our appreciation for the ongoing work of the Refugee Affairs Officers (RAO) in providing legal advice and assistance to refugees in need in the effort to safeguard their legal and human rights. Their work has been particularly important in Al-Khalil, where the presence and violent acts of 400 extremist settlers, among 120,000 Palestinians, remain a source of great tension and problems. In this regard, another serious problem has been the continuation of construction in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, the expropriation of Palestinian lands and the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities during the period under review. We once again express our strong hope that these measures will cease immediately in correspondence with the progress that is being achieved in the peace process.

Mr. Chairman,

Allow me at this time to express our deep appreciation to the Commissioner-General, Mr. Turkmen, for the thorough and detailed report he has presented and for the dedication with which he continues to pursue his work on behalf of the Palestine refugees. Our gratitude extends also to the diligent staff of UNRWA for the tireless efforts they continue to exert as they strive to alleviate the suffering and hardships of the Palestine refugees in matters of daily life. We express our thanks to the Advisory Commission of UNRWA for their work in support of the Agency and to the members of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA as well.

Today, in this forum, I would also like to convey our appreciation to all donor who have so generously contributed to the budget of UNRWA for so many years, as well as those who have assisted in the promotion of additional projects through Peace Implementation Programme II. We appeal to you to continue to contribute, and if possible augment contributions, to UNRWA.

Mr. Chairman,

A new era promising peace, coexistence and prosperity is dawning upon the region in which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East operates. But the dawn has not yet arrived and much remains to be done until that time. Approaching nearly fifty years of operation, UNRWA remains a beacon of hope and survival for the Palestine refugees who continue to patiently await the just and comprehensive resolution of their plight. In this regard, UNRWA remains a constant and stabilizing force in the lives of the refugees and the services it provides must be maintained as a matter of necessity. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.