Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), Item 83: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 53rd Session, 9 November 1998:

Mr. Chairman,

Item 83 of our agenda, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), is an item that has been included on the General Assembly’s agenda since 1949, and is an item that is of the highest importance to my delegation and, I hope, to many other delegations. In addressing this item, we are addressing the work of UNRWA and the correspondent conditions and fate of the 3.5 million Palestine refugees that are registered with the Agency. It is a depressing and unfortunate reality that this year marked a half-century of the plight of the Palestine refugees, who remain scattered throughout the five fields of UNRWA’s operations and beyond, awaiting the just resolution of their plight.

To begin, I wish to reiterate and reaffirm basic and constant principles with regard to the refugees. The Palestinian refugees, like any other refugees, have natural established rights to their homes and their properties. Beginning with resolution 194 of 11 December 1948, article 11 of which affirms the right of the Palestine refugees 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 has not diminished with the passage of time. Further, this right should 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, but which unfortunately has not happened due to the Israeli lack of compliance. Also, the rights of the Palestine refugees should not to be confused with the right of every Palestinian to Palestinian nationality and their right to become citizens of the Palestinian State in the future.

Mr. Chairman,

Over the decades since its establishment, UNRWA has played a crucial and historical role in halting the further deterioration of the conditions and situation of the Palestine refugees. It has greatly and incomparably assisted them through the provision of necessary relief, health care, education and social services. The continuing importance and centrality of UNRWA in the lives of the refugees cannot be overemphasized. Consequently, the severe financial difficulties being faced by the Agency are of grave concern. The continuing and widening gap between the financial resources available to UNRWA and the needs of the 3.5 million Palestine refugees is a serious dilemma fraught with both short-term and potentially grave long-term negative consequences. Once again, the financial problems and deficit being experienced by UNRWA led to the implementation of austerity measures and a reduction in the level of services during the past reporting period, which increased the already-heavy burdens upon needy refugee families.

Illustrative of the centrality of UNRWA for the refugees and the negative impact and implications of the austerity measures is the reaction of the refugees to the reduction in services. As noted in the report of the Commissioner-General (A/53/13), "the measures were seen as an abandonment of the international community’s traditional humanitarian responsibilities vis--vis the Palestine refugees", and "were interpreted as having broader political implications, namely as being part of a supposed process of phasing out UNRWA prior to a resolution of the Palestine refugee issue."

In this connection, I wish to reemphasize the necessity of the continuation of the work of UNRWA in all fields of operation until a definitive solution to the refugee problem is reached with the implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions. We oppose any decrease in the services of UNRWA for humanitarian reasons and also because of the negative political meaning 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 solely on the basis of availability of funds. Its services and programs must meet the prevailing needs of the refugees.

The grave deterioration of the situation on the ground, as a result of the protracted deadlock in the peace process and the policies and practices of the occupying Power, serves as a glaring reminder of continuing and urgent needs. This deterioration over the past reporting period 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 very high unemployment, a decline in household income, an overburdened infrastructure and dilapidated and deplorable living conditions, and UNRWA’s services are essential in helping in many ways to alleviate these hardships.

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,

At this time, I wish to take this opportunity to express our thanks to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, for the thorough and comprehensive report he has presented to the General Assembly and for his unwavering and tireless efforts at all levels, as well as for the commitment and work of the staff of UNRWA, particularly in light of the increasing difficulties being faced by the Agency.

Mr. Chairman,

We wish, at this time, to also express our gratitude and 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.

Mr. Chairman,

I would also like to convey our deep appreciation and gratitude to all the donors who have so generously contributed to the budget of UNRWA for so many years and who once again responded to the appeals made by the Commissioner-General this past year for additional contributions to enable the Agency to carry out its essential services. We urge 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 without disruption. Further, in closing, I wish to reiterate the importance of backing contributions with the necessary political support for the Palestine refugees and the just resolution of their plight.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.