Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee(Fourth Committee), Item 84: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, 51st Session, 22 November 1996

Mr. Chairman,

Item 84 on our agenda, 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. It is an item which has remained on the yearly agenda of the United Nations since 1949. In addressing this item, we are dealing with the conditions and the fate of 3.3 million Palestinian refugees, one of the biggest and certainly the oldest refugee problem in our contemporary world.

Those Palestinian refugees, like any other refugees, have natural established rights to their homes and their properties. In the case of the Palestinian refugees, beginning with resolution 194 of 11 December 1948, article 11 of which affirms their right to return to their homes and properties and to compensation for those who choose not to return, the General Assembly has annually reaffirmed this right. It is an inalienable, individual right which will not be diminished with the passage of time. This right is not to be confused with the right of displaced persons to return to the territory occupied by Israel since 1967, which was affirmed in Security Council resolution 237 (1967) and which should be effected during the transitional period of the peace process in accordance with the agreements reached between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Also, this right is not to be confused with the right of every Palestinian to Palestinian nationality and citizenship.

Mr. Chairman,

Over the years and since its establishment, UNRWA has played a crucial role in preventing the exasperation of this human catastrophe and has greatly helped in providing necessary relief, care and education for two, and in many cases more, generations of Palestinian refugees. Today, UNRWA still performs valuable work, and such work should continue in all fields of operation until a definitive solution to the problem is reached. A reduction in the services of the Agency would most certainly have dangerous repercussions. The difficulties which are facing the peace process at this stage and the actual deterioration of the situation on the ground serve as unfortunate reminders of such continuing and urgent needs.

Mr. Chairman,

The Palestinian side has always sought a positive and constructive relationship with UNRWA at all levels. Mutual cooperation has been further enhanced with the completion of the transfer of UNRWA headquarters to Gaza City and the signing of the Headquarters Agreement between the Agency and the Palestinian Authority. Also, recently a cooperative relationship has been established with the Advisory Commission of UNRWA.

At this time, I wish to take this opportunity to welcome Mr. Peter Hansen, the capable Commissioner-General of UNRWA, and to congratulate him and all of his colleagues for all of their efforts and the valuable work they have been doing and also to express our appreciation for the Report of the Commissioner-General, contained in document A/50/13. In this regard, it is our hope that in the future the practice of using the established United Nations terminology will be resumed with regard to the report and that the secretariat will be able to present it on time.

As mentioned in the report, the beginning of the reporting period witnessed some positive political developments, including the redeployment of the Israeli army from six cities in the West Bank. The situation, however, has deteriorated, recently falling to a dangerous plateau. The peace process is facing serious problems and obstacles, and the socio-economic conditions of the Palestinian people have declined to an unprecedented low level. This has all been the result of Israeli policies and measures, in the forefront of which has been the closure of the Palestinian territory. Needless to say, the current situation has a dire and grave impact on the overall situation of the Palestinian refugees living in the occupied territory. It has also caused many serious difficulties with regard to the normal operations of the Agency, as detailed in the report. We do appreciate the additional efforts of UNRWA to confront this situation.

Mr. Chairman,

We wish at this time to express our appreciation to the host countries for their efforts and their important contribution in carrying the burden of the Palestine refugees. I would also like to convey our appreciation to all donors who have so generously contributed to the budget of UNRWA for so many years. We appeal to you to continue to contribute to UNRWA and, if possible, to augment those contributions. In this regard, we are aware of the financial difficulties facing the Agency and the serious attempts that have been made by the Commissioner-General to solve this problem this year. We express our strong hope that all donors will be willing to contribute in correcting the structural deficit of UNRWA in order to maintain the badly needed quality and level of services of the Agency. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.