Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the Nations, before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), Item 86: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, 52nd Session, 24 November 1997:

Mr. Chairman,

Our debate today on agenda item 86, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), is of the highest importance to my delegation. In addressing this item, which has been included on the annual agenda of this august body since 1949, we are dealing with the conditions and fate of 3.4 million Palestine refugees. Scattered throughout the five fields of UNRWA’s operations and beyond, the Palestine refugees have been awaiting a just resolution of their plight for nearly half a century.

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 have been effected during the transitional period of the peace process, in accordance with the agreements reached between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, but which unfortunately has not happened due to the Israeli lack of compliance. Also, the rights of the Palestine refugees are not to be confused with the right of every Palestinian to Palestinian nationality and citizenship.

Mr. Chairman,

Over the decades since its establishment, UNRWA has played a crucial and historical role in preventing the worsening of the human catastrophe of the Palestine refugees, greatly helping in providing necessary relief, health care, education and social services for two, and in many cases more, generations of Palestine refugees. Today, UNRWA continues to administer essential services and programs. At this time, we thank the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, for the annual comprehensive report he has presented, contained in document A/52/13, and we wish to take this opportunity to also express our genuine appreciation for the untiring efforts of the Commissioner-General at all levels, as well as for the work of the staff of UNRWA, particularly in light of the increasing difficulties being faced by the Agency.

Here, we emphasize that the work of UNRWA must continue in all fields of operation until a definitive solution to the refugee problem is reached with the implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions. The regrettable reduction in services undertaken by the Agency in the past year, due to the serious financial crisis, clearly had a negative impact. Although some of those reductions were revoked, these measures still had a detrimental effect. We oppose any decrease in the services of UNRWA for humanitarian reasons and also because of the negative signal this would convey to the Palestine refugees. Allowing financial burdens to become the foremost consideration of the Agency is unfair to the refugees that UNRWA is mandated to serve and unfair to the administration of the Agency. The Agency should not be forced to operate on the basis of availability of funds; services and programs must meet the prevailing needs.

The grave deterioration of the peace process as well as of the situation on the ground serve as unfortunate reminders of such urgent needs. This deterioration has resulted in the worsening in the daily life of the Palestinian people, with despair and frustration most prevalent among the Palestine refugee population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. The refugees continue to face severe socio-economic hardships, including rampant unemployment, and deplorable living conditions.

Mr. Chairman,

It has been one year since the transfer of UNRWA headquarters to Gaza, which has afforded the Agency many benefits, including proximity to the fields of operation, the establishment of stronger relations with the Palestinian leadership at the highest levels and greater cooperation and coordination with other United Nations agencies in the region. Unfortunately, however, the operations of the Agency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to be obstructed by measures imposed by the Israeli authorities, such as the recurrent closures, which have restricted the movement of UNRWA staff and vehicles and affected the provision of services to the Palestine refugees. Clearly, the Agency must be allowed to carry out its mandate without such constraints and problems.

Mr. Chairman,

We wish to express our appreciation to the host countries for their efforts and their important contribution in carrying the burden of the Palestine refugees. It remains extremely important for UNRWA to be able to continue its programs and services in all those fields of operation, namely Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. Further, there is a practical humanitarian need to pay more attention to the Palestine refugees in Lebanon, given the sharp and distressing decline in their living conditions.

Mr. Chairman,

I would also like to convey our appreciation to all the donors who have so generously contributed to the budget of UNRWA for so many years and who responded to the additional appeals made by the Commissioner-General this past year. We urge to you to continue to contribute to UNRWA and, if possible, to augment those contributions with a view to alleviating the serious financial difficulties being faced by the Agency and enabling it to maintain the needed level of services. Further, I wish to echo the Advisory Commission of UNRWA in emphasizing the importance of backing contributions with the necessary political support for the Palestine refugees and the resolution of their plight. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.